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Are aluminum vehicles the new rage?

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Farmers in the 1800s complained that the average fully loaded wagons were too heavy for their livestock to pull; — Weight is the enemy, they moaned.

Even carriage makers did R&D, and before the Studebaker brothers turned to building auto-buggies, they tried using aluminum to save weight in their Aluminum Wagen. They replaced 490 lbs of steel parts with aluminum hardware weighing only 170 lbs. A saving of 320 lbs could mean transporting a heavier load or enabling the draft animals to have an easier time of it.

However, since the cost of aluminum is a good deal higher than steel, aluminum did not achieve the breakthrough it is about to make in alternative transportation of today and tomorrow.

Most automobile bodies in the early years –into the 1930s– were made of covered wood frames; covered with treated canvas or wood panels. As skilled wood workers became fewer and fewer, sheet metal came into use almost universally.

Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T made it possible to cover the wooden body-frames with steel panels. Most other automobile makers still shipped the running gear to coachbuilders to finish the body to their customer’s requests: “Body on Frame”.

A great number of automobiles –in makes only, not in numbers– from American and European carmakers were crafted from aluminium. Aluminum (North-American spelling) is also used to make beer cans; — no difference in the material, just in the spelling - same light weight. Perhaps also ’light’ beer in the lighter-than-steel aluminum cans, saving calories, saving weight around the middle.

Saving weight makes cars (and people) move easier with less energy expended; that is the aim behind society’s efforts to create alternative transportation. In ten short model-years (2025) the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) must reach 54.5 mpg, or 4.3 l/100km for metric oriented countries.

For that reason, cars are getting smaller, meaning lighter. Smaller engines produce the same power as before, electric motors are added to assist the engine (in hybrids), and weight is trimmed by any means possible; the auto industry is experiencing a (r)evolution.

“For those who like a challenge, for those who like opportunity, for those who like to make fundamental changes, today in the industry is ideal. For those who simply want to keep doing what they have always done, who like to stay on an even keel, for those who are just looking for the end of the day, right now is probably a more difficult time to be in the industry than during the Great Recession.

"For decades, there was pretty much a similarity in the way all OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] and suppliers went about their work. Everyone pretty much made the same thing and did it in the same way.

"That’s over. And things are not going to go back to the way they used to be.
That’s what Ford’s choice of aluminum means.”

These profound words of wisdom were written by Gary Vasilash, a widely published and greatly respected engineering journalist.

To the surprise of everyone, Ford announced in January 2014 that the F150 pickup will have an aluminum body for the 2015 model year, and a pre-production model was on display at NAIAS, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

A pickup truck body made of aluminum? Is that not the material used for a hand-crafted Maserati and the like?

…..to be continued….

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