2012 Audi A6 aluminum and steel constructionEnlarge Photo
Customers want safer, quieter and better equipped cars. This all adds weight, so carmakers searching reductions in weight often have to turn to lighter - and more expensive - materials such as aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium, magnesium and more.
The aviation industry has the same goals and many weight saving technologies originally stem from research into aircraft design. The latest material, developed by aluminum producer Alcoa, is aluminum lithium alloy.
Alcoa claims the new alloy could save up to 10 percent on the weight of a passenger airplane over regular "composite-intensive planes". Lower weight means less energy is needed to takeoff and cruise leading to lower costs, and passenger comfort is higher too with the alloy allowing higher cabin humidity, larger windows and lower cabin altitude during the flight.
The alloy is also more recyclable than composites, reducing environmental impact.
Will we see aluminum lithium alloy appearing in road cars? There's no real reason why not, though we expect it'll need thorough testing in aircraft first to determine whether its worth the extra development and cost.
Regular aluminum is attractive in road cars thanks to low weight and corrosion resistance, but less easy to manufacture from than steel and as a result, more expensive. Only a handful of production road cars have used the material in any large quantity.
The current Audi R8 and TT are largely constructed from aluminum and the A8 and old European-market A2 subcompact both use the substance. The Jaguar XJ is also aluminum-bodied and the old Honda and Acura NSX and Honda Insight Mk1 were also constructed from aluminum. Several other cars use aluminum chassis, the Chevrolet Corvette and several Ferraris being prime examples.