If you're going to squeeze 80 mpg from a five-passenger sedan the size of a Ford Taurus, you've got to make it out of aluminum or high-tech composites, right? Steelmakers say no. They're funding a new engineering project to develop a steel-intensive auto body that meets or beats the goals of the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle (PNGV) Prototype - as well as a project to create a high-mileage C-Class size car for Europe. Announced in February, (see WAW - March, '99, p.10) by a consortium of 33 international steel companies, the project is scheduled for completion in mid 2001.

Steelmakers already have developed a body-in-white prototype - called the Ultralight Steel Auto Body (ULSAB) - that is up to 36% lighter than conventional steel bodies. This latest project - called ULSAB-AVC (for advanced vehicle concepts) - extends the process even further. It will develop an attractive exterior design and lightweight steel concepts for closure panels and suspension systems in addition to the body structure.

Unlike the previous ULSAB program, which ultimately built a dozen physical prototypes, the latest project currently is scheduled to develop only computer models.

Program sponsors say the computer models will closely reflect how real physical prototypes perform in critical areas such as crash-energy management. The consortium says the new designs will meet anticipated North American and European government safety requirements for 2004, and says they will pass a series of stringent crashworthiness events, including front, side, rear, roof crush and side pole impacts.

The target for the PNGV-sized car is 2,276 lbs. (1,034 kg) to 2,375 lbs. (1,077 kg), depending on engine weight. General Motors Corp.'s aluminum-intensive Precept PNGV concept car weighs 2,587 lbs. (1,173 kg); Ford Motor Co.'s mostly aluminum Prodigy weighs 2,387 lbs. (1,083 kg). DaimlerChrysler's plastic-bodied ESX3 concept weighs in at 2,250 lbs. (1,021 kg).

It's probably not appropriate to make direct comparisons between the conceptual ULSAB-AVC and the Precept, Prodigy and ESX3, steel proponents admit, but they say it will show that expensive aluminum- and composite body structures will not be necessary for automakers to meet PNGV fuel-economy and emissions goals.

Porsche Engineering Services, Inc., Troy, MI, - which developed the ULSAB - will engineer the two cars for the consortium.