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Could Aluminum Revolutionize the Electric Vehicle Industry?

Vehicle Comparisons - Weight, Range, Cost
Vehicle Comparisons – Weight, Range, Cost

Increasing fuel economy is no easy feat, considering that the main way to do so is to reduce engine size, and this means less powerful vehicles, or build smaller vehicles, which aren’t easily marketable.

Electric vehicles [EV] have this same kind of catch-22 situation, because, while they are nearly emissions-free, they do have limited range. To increase range, they could build smaller EVs, but then they start getting into unmarketable territory.

On the other hand, EV range can be increased by installing a bigger battery pack, but then, this creates two more problems. First, bigger battery packs are heavier, and the weight to range ratio isn’t very attractive. Second, bigger battery packs are more expensive, and while the price to range ratio may work out, most consumers just don’t get the overall cost. In either case, what you end up with is an unmarketable vehicle.

Perhaps what the EV makers need to do is take a cue from their gasoline-powered counterparts, and start looking into lighter materials. Weight plays a huge role in fuel economy, and major automakers are working with magnesium and aluminum to reduce the weight of body panels. General Motors has even pioneered a new aluminum spot-welding process, which means that new frames can be made lighter and stronger than steel framing.

A recent study, by Forschungsgesellschaft Kraftfahrwesen mbH Aachen [FKA], for the European Aluminum Association proposes that the use of aluminum could drop the weight of an electric vehicle. Using a standard Volkswagen Golf, FKA figures a 125-mile-range Golf EV utilizing aluminum framing and panels would be about 400 pounds lighter and $800 cheaper. To get the same range in a steel-bodies EV, the battery price would increase about $2,150. Reducing EV weight could increase range and even be cheaper, both of which would be good news for the EV market.

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