EERE Success Story—Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicle Helps Bring Technologies to Market

July 26, 2016

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Although the Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicle (MMLV) is never going to appear on a dealership lot, this project demonstrated the feasibility of integrating lightweight materials and joining technologies into current production vehicles. Built by Vehma International and Ford, with support from EERE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, the MMLV is a concept car that weighs 23.5% less than the 2013 Ford Fusion, a similar mid-size sedan. Reducing a vehicle’s weight by 10 % can increase its fuel economy by 6% to 8 %, so the technology in the MMLV offers huge potential for increasing vehicle efficiency.

What makes the MMLV unique is how it combines a variety of lightweight materials into a single vehicle. Traditional techniques used to build vehicles out of steel often do not work with lightweight materials, making it difficult to join them together. However, because this vehicle largely uses advanced high-strength steel, aluminum extrusions, and aluminum castings for the body structure, Vehma needed to work through these issues. In addition to using lightweight materials in the body, it used fiber reinforced composites in interior components like seats as well as in suspension components like coil springs and wheels. Because a lighter vehicle requires less work from the engine, Ford was able to downsize the powertrain, further increasing the vehicle’s efficiency.

Along with minimizing weight, car manufacturers must maintain vehicle safety. To assess its safety, Ford ran the MMLV through its durability test track, as well as four standard IIHS/FMVSS safety tests. In one of these tests, the New Car Assessment Program’s Full Frontal Crash Test, Ford ran one of the seven prototype vehicles into a wide, rigid barrier at 35 miles per hour. The MMLV passed all of the tests with flying colors.

Because Ford tested the MMLV like a vehicle going to market, the partners could use it to validate a number of lightweight technologies. For example, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R uses carbon fiber composite wheels that are 50 pounds lighter than the wheels used in the previous version. The investigations and early testing of this technology in the MMLV allowed Ford to become the first major automaker to use this technology. Similarly, the Ford GT is now using Corning Gorilla Glass in its windshield and side glass, which is five times stronger than traditional windshield glass. Because the windscreen is stronger, it can be thinner and lighter without sacrificing safety. When the team used Gorilla Glass in the MMLV, it reduced the glazing weight by more than 30 %. As Ford continues to improve these technologies, they will become more common and likely to be used in affordable vehicles.

Since the partners developed the MMLV aluminum intensive body structure, Magna has established seven vacuum die casting facilities to manufacture cast aluminum structural components, two of which are in the United States. 

The MMLV and the technologies used in it offer the potential to make our vehicles lighter and more efficient for generations to come.

The Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) supports research, development (R&D), and deployment of efficient and sustainable highway transportation technologies to improve vehicles’ fuel economy and minimize petroleum use. These technologies will increase Americans’ energy security, lower costs, and reduce environmental impacts.