Editorial – Fall 2019, Automotive Leadership
The 19th C British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is credited with the title of this editorial, adding that “change is constant.” The phrase may have been original but the idea certainly was not. A slightly earlier Benjamin, the American statesman Franklin, had warned that “when you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” History is replete with illustrations of the battles by those who fought against change for the sake of change and those who fought to bring about change because of perceived need.
Ever since the debut of the automobile, the twin pillars of form and function have both loomed large. One might have thought that, over a century later, there was little left to do in the basic design, engineering and manufacture of automotive bodies. Yet today, as this the articles in this magazine demonstrate, change is ever present.
There are not only continuing and significant improvements in how we design and engineer vehicles but there are also major re-examinations of the very materials that are used in their construction. Many of these changes are being driven by energy and environmental factors that, while always of interest historically, have now assumed dramatic importance.
As one example, vehicles targeted for high-volume production must now more than ever take into account fuel consumption. Even though the powertrain still receives major attention in this regard, every facet of the automotive body, from the aerodynamics of the outside mirrors to the mass of every component, is now under scrutiny to see if any change can boost the range.
There is little doubt that change is needed, and not merely for its own sake, as we consider the fragility of fuel supplies and the increasing regulatory burden being placed on manufacturers to meet challenging fuel economy targets.
Decreasing body weight is an obvious way to improve fuel economy: a useful rule-of-thumb is that a 10% reduction in vehicle weight should lead to a 3-5% improvement in fuel economy for the average sedan. Achieving weight reduction however, whether by clever engineering and design or by the use of advanced or alternative materials, can present major challenges when other factors such as consumer acceptability and affordability are considered. Another useful, but painful, rule-of-thumb is that going to advanced materials usually results in added costs – not necessarily or only because of raw material costs but because every subsequent stage of manufacture and assembly tends to be more complex or expensive. The long reign of steel in automotive bodies is testimony to experience despite the voices urging change.
What will the future bring? Read this issue to see current trends but plan to attend International Automotive Body Congress, and Emissions Conference for an even broader survey, www.gamcinc.com
Dr. M. Nasim Uddin