Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are poised to be the future of the auto industry. In the past, lightweighting – or purposely designing more lightweight cars specifically for fuel efficiency – has been a key tool for improving the fuel economy of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. However, the transition from ICEs to BEVs changes both the goals and the design considerations around lightweighting. BEVs are overwhelmingly more efficient than ICE vehicles due to regenerative braking and more efficient motors, and are increasingly outgrowing the issue of limited range. Materials companies need to start planning for a fully mature BEV space.
Lux predicts that battery pack energy densities will increase by roughly 15% over the next decade. This increased energy density can be used either to extend the range of a vehicle by keeping battery size the same, or reduce cost by shrinking the size of the battery pack. In its analysis, Lux modelled both scenarios and calculated a lightweighting benchmark. Lux determined that in order for lightweighting to be a cost-effective solution against batteries by 2030, it will need to cost, on average, less than US$5 per kilogram of weight saved.
This benchmark is not the only thing guiding lightweighting decisions. To find adoption, materials companies and manufacturers will need to find solutions that save on both weight and cost. We predict that vehicle structures will be an opportunity for high-strength steel and aluminium, as they provide weight reductions at minimal cost.
Bumpers are expected to benefit from design advancements that utilise glass fibre, carbon fibre, and thermoplastics. Other material priorities, such as sustainability, durability, and end-of-life issues, however, will take priority over lightweighting by 2030. There is far more risk of disruption from improving energy storage technologies – which could substantially outstrip forecast improvements by 2030 – than there is from novel innovations in materials.