In the ongoing race to make vehicles more fuel efficient while making them safer as well, one automaker addressed the issue by increasing the use of aluminium in the manufacturing of their offering, making it the lightest vehicle in its class in the process.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica will hit the showroom floors later this year with a curb weight of 4,315 lbs. This represents a 250-lb. weight reduction over the model’s replacement, the Town & Country, and makes it the lightest minivan on the road at the present time.
“What we decided to do was support the structure where it needed to be reinforced and take away weight everywhere we knew could,” explained Jessica LaFond, chief engineer of minivans for FCA. “And then went after just every ounce.”
The process LaFond describes is known in the auto industry as “lightweighting.” Lightweighting is an engineering and design process whereby designers find places to use lighter, stronger materials, all while maintaining, or even improving, the vehicle’s safety.
The process took Fiat Chrysler five years and cost US$2.6 billion. It wasn’t easy to drop the weight of an adult male from the vehicle’s design, as consumers demand ever more technology and safety equipment in their vehicles, which usually means adding weight. In order to achieve both goals, engineers used a combination of high strength steel, aluminum and magnesium in certain areas to add strength, reduce weight, or both.
“We weren’t willing to sacrifice strength and weight where we needed it,” LaFond said. “So that sort of doubled the challenge for us.”
FCA’s engineers saved forty pounds by using aluminium panels on the sliding side doors. They saved weight in the front end by using aluminum knuckles and an aluminum control arm in the front suspension. The weight savings improved Pacifica’s fuel efficiency by ten percent over its predecessor.
“From our perspective we were proud of being able to match that level of fuel economy with the improvements we made,” LaFond said.