Tightening fuel efficiency and emissions regulations all around the world are pushing automakers to find any way they can to make their cars greener, downsizing engines, reducing internal friction and improving aerodynamics.
Another area, and one of the most beneficial as it not only improves fuel economy but also boosts handling and reduces wear and tear, is weight reduction. In the recent past we’ve seen the proliferation of lightweight carbon fiber used in cars but now one automaker, Ford, is getting even more innovative.
Ford has taken inspiration from a chocolate bar to produce lighter plastic parts by injecting gas bubbles during manufacturing. Plastic parts are an area where it is traditionally difficult to save weight without sacrificing strength, durability or function, but Ford has come up with a solution.
Its new MuCell technology introduces gas bubbles into the plastic as it is molded, leaving a microscopic honeycomb structure. These tiny spaces save weight by reducing the amount of plastic used, without compromising the integrity of the part. And, according to Ford, the technology means a 20 percent weight saving for plastic components made using the special construction technique.
The first model to benefit from it will be the new 2012 Ford Focus, which will use it for its engine cover, but eventually every model in the Blue Oval’s lineup will feature it, and for more applications.
Ford has committed to a minimum of 220 pounds weight reduction from even its smallest cars and 660 pounds from larger cars by 2020 as part of environmental initiatives. Note that additional weight saving is also achieved from other materials such as high-strength Boron steels which are already used extensively in Ford models.