Innovation in Auto Manufacturing: The Future of Vehicle Materials & Technologies

Like every major industry operating today, the auto world has converted its focus towards adapting and evolving vehicles to function seamlessly within a tech-driven landscape. Some of these updates regard purely aesthetic desires, simply aiming to introduce new models that cater to modern design practices. However, many manufacturers are taking things a step further, and considering less visible details that relate to the optimal comfort and performance of a given vehicle. The applications derived from such research will be widespread and serve an untold number of purposes, from decreasing the weight of the vehicle to increasing fuel capacity. It would be impossible to cover every new idea that is being considered in the automotive industry at the moment, and with that in mind, I’ve selected a handful of new materials being tested or introduced that I found to be the most interesting.

Improved Aerogels

What is it?

Aerogels are low-density dry materials used in many industries. As aerogels are developed the automotive industry will be able to implement materials that are thinner, cheaper, and better performing than any materials we have seen to date in consumer vehicles. Quartzene is only one of several new aerogels that are being produced, currently being used in various applications including insulation, paint & coatings and filtration and is developed in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective method.

Quartzene Aerogel

How can it be used?

Recent innovations in the creation and applicable production of Quartzene will pave the way for improvements in both regulating surface temperatures in the vehicle, and the introduction of acoustic damping products that will provide a more relaxed atmosphere when behind the wheel.

Benefits

Due to the near ambient conditions in which the material is produced, Quartzene is considerably less expensive to produce than traditional aerogels, leading to a reduced cost across the board, which will trickle down from manufacturer to consumer.

Automotive-Grade Graphene

What is it?

In the grand scheme of things, Graphene is still a relatively new material, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already begun to make waves within the auto industry. Graphene is a virtually two-dimensional layer of carbon. Known as one of the strongest materials ever measured, Graphene can be flexible, compact and inexpensive.

Graphene

How can it be used?

Automotive applications for graphene are still only in the research stage, but will likely find their way into production sooner than later, offering numerous benefits to manufacturers and consumers alike. Most significantly, graphene will open the doors to seriously enhanced composite materials.

Benefits

Researchers are still at the stage of understanding how to make the production of graphene more affordable at every level but, when they do, drivers can expect to see significant improvements in the properties of resulting composites produced. These improvements include better tensile strength, electrical and thermal conductivity, flame retardancy, and a wealth of improvements. Due largely in part to an increasing demand for lightweight vehicles, the automotive industry is expected to be the highest user of advanced composite materials by volume.

Broader Application of Carbon Fiber Materials

What is it?

Carbon Fiber material has been around for awhile, but until now, has typically been reserved for use in high-value sectors such as aerospace, military, sporting goods, and supercars. However, research would indicate that by the 2020s, drivers can expect to see a more widespread use of carbon fiber materials in the majority of consumer vehicles.

2017 Ford GT

How can it be used?

The main hump that has yet to be crossed relates to the high cost involved in the production of carbon fiber. Researchers expect to have solved this issue sometime in the next few years and, should they find success, the potential volume of CFRP (Carbon-Fiber Reinforced Plastics) used in cars and trucks could eclipse all other applications of the material, potentially creating an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Benefits

The largest benefit of Carbon Fiber is how lightweight the material is. Given the industries general shift towards developing electric vehicles, carbon fiber will be essential towards large-scale production, as lighter materials lead to the secondary benefit of smaller, lighter batteries.

 Thin-Film Solar Panels

What is it?

Due to a general increase in the consideration and implementation of solar panels across most industries, the applicability of solar panels has found its way into the automotive industry. Solar panel makers have been in development of multiple concepts to fully power vehicles by sunlight.

Toyota Prius Solar Roof Feature

The Toyota Prius has a solar roof panel, currently available to markets outside of the U.S.

How can it be used?

Photovoltaic collectors are now so flexible and thin that they can be used as roof panels on vehicles.

Benefits

Beyond their aesthetically pleasing nature, these solar panels can, on average, produce about 300 watts of power, which can then be harnessed and used in reducing the electrical strain on the vehicle that could be caused by the increasing implementation of infotainment systems, or could serve to run some of the car’s auxiliary electronic systems.

 New Materials for Vehicle Interiors

What is it?

Perhaps not as widespread as the rest of the industries innovations, there is still a noticeable desire from automotive manufacturers to try something new when it comes to interior upholstery.

 How can it be used?

This trend can already be seen in Mercedes’ S-Class vehicles, which use coconut husks for seat cushioning, as the husks make for pretty good padding and are also sound deadening.

Mercedes-Benz S 500 Interior

Swiss manufacturer Rinspeed has taken to using bamboo for interior vehicle production, as the material is cheaper, lighter, and more renewable than wood. Several manufacturers are looking at a more widespread use of cloth in both exterior and interior vehicle production.

Bamboo Interior

Benefits

While the material is by no means structurally strong, it is significantly cheaper, lighter, and more malleable than modern alternatives.

Improvements on the Horizon

Yet again, the general takeaways from the anticipated industry enhancements mentioned above are quite exciting. Beyond the added enjoyment these materials are expected to provide, this is one segment of innovation in the industry that consumers can expect to aid in reducing the overall cost of owning a vehicle, from the purchasing amount to the cost of maintenance and operation. It seems like consumers are in for significant, widespread improvements to their driving experience at every level, and these consistent breakthroughs in improving production and the quality of vehicles doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.