Three words — every gram counts — frame the engineering mindset at Audi these days as it delves into the science of lightweight construction and its effects on vehicle safety, performance, efficiency and emissions.
But simple words don’t always translate into easy action.
Achieving lightness has become incredibly complex business.
In addition to reducing the weight of individual components and systems, carbon-fibre-reinforced plastics (CFRPs) are joining aluminum and ultra-high-strength steels to make vehicle bodies that are not just lighter, but almost indestructible.
CFRPs and exotic resins are layered, molded, pressed, formed and baked in giant ovens into components that are stronger than steel but weigh almost half as much.
The new plastics do not lend themselves easily to mass production and working with carbon fibre has traditionally been both time — and labour-intensive.
But Audi says it has made breakthroughs in dealing with the new-age plastics.
A lighter body is the starting point for weight reductions on other parts of the car as engineers work to shave “every possible gram” (without compromising durability or function) from the drivetrain, suspension, passenger compartment, electrical system and the electronics.
Lightweight construction is a “strategic” policy that Audi’s competitors are only now beginning to adopt, said Aliois Feldschmid, head of total vehicle development.
“A lighter car accelerates, brakes and corners better and has sustainable economic and ecological results.”
In an industry where the rule has been that vehicles get bigger and heavier over time, Audi is attempting “reversing the weight spiral.”
The company has developed “competence” over the past 30 years in the use of combined materials, said Feldschmid.
It has incorporated carbon fibre into its cars since first using it for body parts on the original 1980 Audi Quattro.
Different materials with different strengths require new technologies to join them, not only in metal-on-metal applications, but also metal-on-plastic, said Dr. Klaus Koglin, head of technical development.