The automobile is one of the most important inventions of our time. It brings us mobility, freedom, jobs and much more. But as long as men will move, there will be accidents. How can we reduce the occurrence or severity of those accidents?
Ideally you would try to avoid an accident altogether. Surveys showed that after fuel efficiency, safety is the second most important criterion in purchasing a vehicle. The auto industry distinguishes between passive and active safety. Active safety refers to solutions that help in preventing an accident, and includes brake assist and electronic stability control systems, as well as advanced driver assistant systems like lane departure assistance. Passive safety refers to solutions that help reduce the effects of an accident, and includes airbags, seatbelts and, to the point of this post, the physical structure of the vehicle.
As long as collisions still occur, car makers will focus on the vehicle structure to save lives. They use a variety of materials; high amongst them is aluminum. Aluminum’s high strength-to-weight ratio makes parts that are lightweight yet capable of carrying heavy loads and absorbing high amounts of energy in crash. Pound-for-pound, aluminum can absorb more crash energy than steel and is very predictable in the way it reacts to collision forces. Vehicle designers use this predictability to design structures that absorb crash energy and transfer it around and away from the passengers. Additionally, aluminum’s corrosion resistance minimizes deterioration of a vehicle’s structure – and hence its ability to absorb crash energy – over the life of the vehicle.
Light-weighting with aluminum also contributes to better cornering stability and wheel-to-road power distribution. And vehicle weight reduction can contribute to shorter stopping distances, which may help the driver avoid an accident altogether. Not to mention fewer visits to the gas station thanks to improved fuel economy.
A good example of the benefits light-weighting can deliver is the new aluminum-bodied Ford F-150. Overall, up to 700 pounds of weight were saved, helping the F-150 tow more, haul more, accelerate quicker and stop shorter. The truck earned a top five-star safety rating from the USA’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — the only full-size, light-duty truck to receive NHTSA’s top safety rating in all crash test modes and cab configurations.
Using aluminum in combination with intelligent vehicle design leads to lower weight and higher strength and is the basis for improved performance, safety, economy, emissions performance and driving dynamics — at no expense to safety.