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New car design thanks to composite material

The cars of the future will be increasingly lighter. Each kilogram dropped equates to greater range. Car designs are changing as well. We can already see small changes in electric cars, but the major design changes are being made with the entry of self-driving cars in the market. RISE conducts research projects that create new conditions for both the electric car industry and the self-driving car industry.

New car bodies are becoming heavier and heavier. This is because we are including more and more features in our cars, such as AC, audio systems and other features that make our car trips more comfortable. However, stringent new environmental requirements have affected the car industry's view of weight, and when Volvo launched its new XC90, it was the first time that a car model’s body had a lower weight than its predecessor. Extensive research is now underway to determine how steel components can be exchanged for composite materials, thus making cars lighter. This change in materials can reduce a car’s weight by up to half in comparison to its weight with the traditional components.

– Integrated composite components are used in cars today on a relatively small scale. This means that a car’s weight is reduced, but not yet to a significant extent, says Daniel Berglund, group manager and senior researcher at RISE.

New conditions in the electric car industry

Until now, the exchanged components have been located inside existing car bodies and have not affected a car's design. But with new conditions in the electric car industry, where the engine is smaller, the gearbox and the transaxle have been changed or removed completely, and the battery boxes have become larger, manufacturers can now start to replace all major components with composite components, which will primarily change the design of the car’s interior.

– Battery packs for electric cars are quite large and should be placed low in the car to create as low a centre of gravity as possible. A shortterm solution is to lift up the cars or to only electrify SUVs to free up space for the battery boxes. This will flatten the floor in the passenger compartment and create more space”, says Daniel Berglund.

The Scandinavian Automotive Supplier Association (FKG) is the industry organisation for Scandinavian suppliers to the automotive industry. They anticipate a great deal of change in the industry over the next few years.

– We will also see the car’s front section change as the engine will not need to be in the same place. Instead, space will be created for a so-called “frunk”, a trunk front, says Peter Bryntesson who is responsible for research programmes at FKG.

Major changes in self-driving cars

Self-driving cars are now poised to make their entrance into the market as we anticipate major changes in car design.

– Selfdriving cars do not need a driver's seat or dashboard as we see them in cars today. One might say that it will be more like riding around in a living room, says Daniel Berglund.

As conditions change radically, and greater gains are made by switching to composite materials, not just in smaller components but in larger components, car weights will be lowered significantly. At the same time, it is assumed that the public perception of the car will change. 

– The car has long been viewed as a status symbol, with performance being an important consideration. Now, the focus will turn to what you can occupy yourself with while moving from point A to B, says Daniel Berglund.

– It is about a transformation in mobility rather than a vehicle transformation. Vehicles designs will centre around the intended function of the vehicles, and I believe that within ten years we will see major changes in the appearance of cars rolling across our roads, says Peter Bryntesson.

The change from steel to composite materials reduces both weight and cost and creates opportunities for the cars of the future. RISE contributes to this development by researching composite materials and the ways in which these materials can be used in mass production.

Published: 2019-05-08