By Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
I can’t tell you how incredibly rewarding it has been to watch the motor part of the Motor City turn itself around. After the Great Recession torpedoed the long-troubled industry into a massive restructuring, the Detroit Three have been fighting their way back into driveways across America and rebuilding their reputations. Check out, for example, this month’s story on how Chrysler is improving quality with its commitment to a metrology-centric culture.
The Detroit Three comeback is just one factor driving US auto sales closer to pre-recession levels of about 16 million light vehicle sales this year.
Consumers who held onto their cars and trucks through the tough times are finding they can’t go much longer without replacing them, too. The average vehicle on the road is now 11 years old, according to auto research firm Polk. In 1995, by contrast, it was 8.4.
So the US auto sector is expected to see healthy, organic growth for some time. Industry sales are up 8.5% through July, with the Detroit automakers up 10.7%.
While that’s good news for US manufacturers, you will need to stay on your toes when it comes to understanding and employing all the latest technologies here now and on the horizon. Because as the auto industry grows again, it’s also moving rapidly toward an array of new materials, parts, designs and approaches that will help automakers meet the stricter new fuel economy rules. After attending the annual Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City last month, Senior Editor James Sawyer wrote about major trends in this area in a column on our Motorized Vehicle channel at www.MfgEngMedia.com.
The obvious move has been to design models with minimal aerodynamic drag and replace heavy materials with new materials, such as composites, that are strong but light. Key among those is carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP), also the topic of a feature story in this month’s issue. But those approaches won’t get automakers all the way to the finish line.
So there are also new, more complex design approaches that reduce the need for materials while retaining strength in key areas of the vehicle body. And as we’ve written about before, there’s been a sweeping move toward an increasing number of gears in transmissions. Transmissions with 6-, 8- and 9-speeds allow small displacement turbocharged engines to power larger vehicles while delivering the performance and fuel economy drivers demand.
In order to capitalize on the coming market growth, manufacturers will need to stay on top of these changes or offer their own innovations.
This article was first published in the September 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.