What an amazing story. Too often, the best material innovations cost far too much and therefore never see the light of day. It seems hard to believe, but most automakers fight for pennies -- because by the time they build a million of one part, those pennies add up. It's startling to see a part that weighs 30% less at equal cost. Dave, any idea how many pounds are saved here?
@Charles: Actually, it weighs 50% less at an equal cost, compared to a welded steel part. The 30% figure is in comparison to an aluminum die casting, but the die casting is more expensive.
Unfortunately, the paper doesn't say the amount of weight saved, just the percentage reduction. The big deal, which I should have mentioned in the article, is that this is unsprung weight. Reductions in unsprung weight mean better ride quality in addition to better fuel economy.
By the way, if you want to know what the part looks like, it's part 16 in this diagram.
It's unfortunate that Suzuki made the decision to stop selling cars in the U.S., because the Kizashi is a pretty neat car. However, the authors indicated that this technology may find its way into Suzuki's ATVs and other vehicles.
I wonder what the business implications of this are. Are any aspects of this technology patentable? Could Suzuki be seeing some licensing revenue on the horizon? With the 54.5-mpg mandate coming, I'm sure a lot of automakers would be interested.
@Charles: Yes, there is a Japanese patent (2010-254255) that covers this invention.
Interestingly enough, there is a U.S. patent (7,850,182), assigned to Hyundai, that covers something pretty similar, except that the extrusion has a double wall, and is formed in a different way. Hyundai presented their work at the SAE World Congress. I'm not sure whether this is currently being used on any Hyundai vehicles or not.
Hyundai had a lot of problems with corrosion on steel control arms a few years ago, so their interest in aluminum control arms is understandable. (Of course, aluminum is not immune to corrosion, either, as the Suzuki engineers found out!)
"fuel economy has been a major concern of automakers. Reducing vehicle weight is one way to improve fuel efficiency."
Dave, there is no doubt that mileage of automobiles is a major concern, especially when crude oil prices are rising day by day. For these automobile companies has to tune the engine performance for a better mileage either by reducing the curb weight or increasing the engine performance.
I keep a vehicle until it is ready to go to the scrap yard. The down side of this is now we have a rubber bushing that will age and fail, that requires the replacement of an entire control arm $$$. This proabaly will be a OEM only part, in 10 years not available. Over the life of the vehicle the fuel saved will not cover the cost of the repair.
@ragtoplvr: That's a good point. The crimping method used to lock the bushing in place would make it difficult to replace just the bushing; it would be hard to get it out, and you'd need a special tool to install a new one. (Assuming you can even get just the bushing by itself, rather than the entire lower control arm assembly). This part was clearly designed for manufacturing, not for service.
You're definitely right about OEM pricing, too. The MSRP for the lower control arm assembly is $357, although you can buy it online for under $300. For comparison, you can get a (non-OEM) rear lower control arm for a Ford Focus for around $35 - $50 online. And given that Suzuki isn't selling cars in the U.S. anymore, you'll be lucky to find one at any price ten years from now.
I agree that this is a good story. To me it is surprising that most articles focus on weight reduction. While I agree that weight hurts mileage, aerodynamics play a much bigger role in efficiency (even at low speeds).
Another MAJOR area of improvement would be updating the infrastructure. I know research is being done in this area, but it feels slow coming. Countries like Belarus already have digital signs posted on the roads instead of speed limits showing the speed you should be traveling to avoid stopping at a red light. Rest of the world has roundabouts instead of 4 way stops which allows traffic to flow without stopping.
As a bicyclist, I am constantly reminded how much energy it takes to ride in constant start-stop traffic and it makes me try to coast as much as possible to avoid stopping. Or how much more effort it takes to ride upright vs tucked position even at 10 or 15mph.
At this year's MD&M West show, lots of material suppliers are talking about new formulations for wearables and things that stick to the skin, whether it's adhesives, wound dressings, skin patches and other drug delivery devices, or medical electronics.
The US Congress has extended an important tax credit for solar energy, a move that’s good news for future investments in this type of alternative energy and for many stakeholders in the solar industry.
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