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Tier I auto suppliers offering lighter components to OEMs

Keywords: Tags  lightweighting, vehicle components, Dana Holding, Roger Wood, Magna International, Donald Walker, steel, aluminum fuel economy

CHICAGO — Lightweighting has become a governing trend in vehicle design, and Tier I auto suppliers are doing all they can to supply vehicle manufacturers with lightweight solutions.

Two such suppliers, Maumee, Ohio-based Dana Holding Corp. and Aurora, Ontario-based Magna International Inc., discussed their commitment during Bank of America Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.’s 2013 New York Auto Summit

Dana, which makes axles, driveshafts, transmissions, sealing and thermal management technologies, now produces a Diamond Series driveshaft that "takes a huge amount of weight out of a typical commercial vehicle and is now being applied in the light vehicle segment," president and chief executive officer Roger Wood said at the summit.

"Customers have some real challenges with the fuel-economy regulations, especially on the commercial side, because their customers buy those vehicles based on how durable it is, what it does for their business and how much fuel they can save," he said. "In commercial and light vehicles, weight is becoming everything now."

The Diamond Series driveshaft allows automakers to take out center beams, support beams and other structures from beneath the vehicle, removing weight from "a couple of different areas," Wood said.

There is "enthusiasm" and growing support from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to begin the process of converting parts and components to lightweight materials, Wood said.

Magna International chief executive officer Donald J. Walker agreed. "What all our customers look for when they do a product enhancement is fuel efficiency and (carbon dioxide) emission. Lighter weight is a big part of that, and it’s driving technology," he said. "There’s a lot of very interesting discussion about how we can have a better product at a lower cost, lower weight. (OEMs) are really thinking through innovation opportunities, and they’re very open to suggestions."

For example, new-model pickup trucks from Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. and Detroit-based General Motors Co. "are using multiple materials and processes and new joining methods, so we’ve been able to take a frame to the next generation and reduce mass by over 20 percent," Walker said. "We developed high- and low-pressure die casting capabilities to replace a lot of existing products in the body structure. (That represents) an advancement using mainly aluminum to reduce weight in bodies."

Magna won the first thermoplastic composite modular liftgate awarded in North America. "It’s for an Asian-based OEM," Walker said. Magna also supplies the new liftgate to a German OEM, offering "a significant reduction in mass and assembly complexity for our customers," Walker said.

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