The future of the car is light New materials to make cars more efficient, safer and more sustainable in the future

DAMIEN REID | Special to REACH by GN

The automotive industry is heading down an exciting path towards electrification and driverless, autonomous transport. While manufacturers are working hard on battery technology and high-tech electric motors, it comes to nought if the car weighs the proverbial tonne. There’s no way to disguise the fact that electric cars are heavy due to battery packs that weigh between 350kg and 500kg.

For example, Audi’s new A6-sized E-Tron electric SUV tips the scales at 2,560kg, the same as a Rolls-Royce Phantom. In order to make electric cars competitive against conventional petrol-powered vehicles, they not only have to be lighter to maximise their range but also stronger and better insulated to extend the battery’s life.

“Car manufacturers are under pressure to minimise weight and reduce the cost of structural components and batter components designed to protect batteries in an accident.”
Shilip Kumar, Vice President – IMEA for Transport & Metal and President of Henkel India

Lightweight construction

Manufacturers are finding innovative ways to save weight in terms of construction techniques, including the use of bonding over welding and finding materials that can glue different components such as steel to aluminium or carbon fibre. “Versatile bonding properties of adhesives allows the combination of modern lightweight materials without sacrificing performance or comfort and can reduce a car’s weight by up to 15 per cent,” says Kumar.

Companies like high-performance automotive adhesive and sealant manufacturer Henkel are redefining the production process for the world’s biggest carmakers as they search for inventive ways to bond, strengthen and insulate cars.

“Through adopting electric vehicle (EV) technology, vehicle manufacturers are faced with the challenge of ensuring the structural integrity is maintained despite the added weight of the battery and the EV management system,” says Kumar. “High-performance adhesives replace conventional joining techniques, which increases safety and simplifies the production process, enabling low-energy surfaces to bond together.”

Henkel brands including Loctite, Bonderite and Teroson help manufacturers achieve weight reduction goals for vehicles without compromising their safety.

Dubai’s future transport

The development of EV and autonomous vehicles is unchartered territory for all the major manufacturers who rely on specialists like Henkel to assist with their groundbreaking manufacturing process. The latest long-term forecast from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows sales of EVs increasing from a record 1.1 million worldwide in 2018 to 11 million in 2025, and then surging to 30 million in 2030 as they establish cost advantage over internal combustion engine cars.

In the UAE, the Roads and Transport Authority in conjunction with the Dubai Future Foundation is working on its Self-Driving Transportation Strategy, which aims to make 25 per cent of all Dubai transport autonomous by 2030. Additionally, the Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC) has signed an agreement with Tesla to have 200 electric cars in its fleet by 2019, of which 90 were already in place in 2018 with the remainder to be introduced this year. In order to manage the electric fleets, DTC has already installed 13 electric charging stations.

In May 2017, the Dubai Police introduced a BMW i3 to its electric fleet to join the Plug-In Hybrid BMW i8 they have used since 2015.

“BMW Middle East is enthusiastic towards Dubai’s smart city vision and we are proud of our key partnership and investments focused on future mobility in the region,” says Dr Hamid Haqparwar, Managing Director of BMW Middle East.

“Nearly all our Middle East markets started launching our Plug-In Hybrid models from 2017 and our newest EV to the region will be the BMW i3s, which is expected to reach the UAE later this year.”

A new driving experience

Henkel’s transparent adhesives allow car manufactures to install larger LCD or OLED displays to not only improve their stability and resistance, but also their image quality

The automobile of the future isn’t just about batteries and self-driving computers, drivers and front-seat passengers will be surrounded by a digital cockpit environment. “Personal mobility is on the verge of some big changes,” says Dr Haqparwar. “Areas such as autonomous driving, electrification and ever-expanding connectivity enables a whole new range of in-vehicle experiences.”

With cars such as BMW’s iNEXT, which will be launched in 2021, “drivers will have more freedom to decide how to use their time in the vehicle, while the interior will also play an increasingly important role”, Dr Haqparwar adds. Henkel’s transparent adhesives allow car manufactures to install larger LCD or OLED displays not only improve their stability and resistance, but also their image quality, enhancing the in-vehicle experience, says Kumar.

Crash protection

As the industry transitions towards EVs and more sustainable driving, manufacturers are revisiting the design process and the use of different materials in order to make the customer feel both safe and comfortable.

“Crash protection can be optimised by using hybrid structural parts based on a combination of fibre-reinforced plastics (FRP) and specially developed high-performance structural foam,” says Kumar.

“Adhesive and sealant suppliers like Henkel work proactively with manufacturers to explore structural solutions to ensure motor vehicles meet the most stringent crash safety standards.”

More manufacturers are now using cutting-edge solutions such as structural adhesives to improve crash performance, as well as reduce interior noise and improve durability. These also cover a number of standard insurance test protocols and variables unique to the Middle East.

Summer temperatures

“For the Middle East, where temperatures soar and affect the battery’s life expectancy in EVs, it is essential to efficiently manage their thermal load,” explains Kumar. “We apply thermal interface materials capable of managing the heat generated during charging and operation. These solutions help efficient heat management of lithium-ion cells during a typical UAE summer.”

Adhesive solutions from Henkel also allow an optimised design of the power train system, as well as making electric cars lighter and more efficient.

“Structural adhesives are cost-effective and cut manufacturing costs by reducing the number of mechanical bolts and spot welds required to create a joint. “With electric and hybrid vehicles gaining popularity in the UAE, suppliers should focus on developing a portfolio of materials that offer unprecedented levels of performance, efficiency, reliability and safety for motorists in this region.”


All images from Shutterstock, Getty Images, Gulf News and Henkel

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