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Chrysler to cut body weight by 13%
Upgrades will save fuel, company says
August 23, 2007

BY TIM HIGGINS

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Using advances in high-strength steels and new design techniques, Chrysler LLC expects to improve fuel efficiency by reducing vehicle body structure weight by 13% over the next three to six years, a company executive said Wednesday.

The reduced weight -- 120 pounds from the vehicle's skeleton -- should improve fuel efficiency by 1%, said Bill Grabowski, Chrysler's director of body core engineering.

The method also will improve vehicle safety by strengthening its structure, the company said.
The move comes as Chrysler takes other steps to improve fuel efficiency, such as investing $3 billion in more efficient engines, axles and transmissions.

Chrysler and other automakers face the prospect of stiffer federally mandated efficiency standards that are pending before Congress.

"In this whole fuel economy-safety debate, it's generally a powertrain-air bag systems conversation," Grabowski said. "In reality, at least from a body engineer's perspective, we think it all starts with great body design."

Chrysler has teamed with DaimlerChrysler AG, soon to be renamed Daimler AG, and the American Iron and Steel Institute to come up with a new way to design vehicles to take better advantage of high-strength steel.

The group developed a computer program that analyzes a vehicle's structure, identifies the highest strains in the so-called body-in-white -- the vehicle's skeleton -- and determines the optimal places for high-strength steel, which is lighter and stronger than traditional materials.

On the flip side, the program also identifies low-strain areas where steel can be shed, saving money and additional weight.

The technology mimics how nature evolves to get efficiency in bones, Chrysler officials say. A bird, for example, has stronger bones in high-strain areas and weaker bones in low-strain areas.

A vehicle's skeleton typically makes up a fourth of its weight, Grabowski said. He said the company hopes the changes will be price-neutral or save money.

"Previously, we engineers would put load-paths where we think they need to be. What this software has been able to do is tell us where the load-paths need to be," Tom Seel, a Chrysler manager who deals with component integration, said of the new tool.

Chrysler already has begun using some of what it has learned. The new Sebring takes advantage of high-strength steel, reducing its weight, Chrysler officials said.

While high-strength steel can reduce a vehicle's weight and improve its safety, analyst Erich Merkle of IRN Inc. said it is often more costly.

He said this tool could help Chrysler get a better return on its investment, though, by showing where high-strength steel should be used for improved safety.


LINK: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070823/BUSINESS01/708230428/1014
 
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