Engineers and designers who subscribe to and other WardsAuto digital publications participated in the survey. Methodology, data collection and analysis were conducted independently by Penton Research, the research arm of Penton, parent company of WardsAuto.   

Another key finding of the automotive engineer survey, now in its fourth year, is that 66% of respondents expect 2017-2025 fuel-economy and emissions standards to become more stringent. Only 20% expects them to stay the same after an upcoming midterm review, and just 10% expects the standards to relax.

Powertrain emerged as the primary target for lightweighting (24%), followed by chassis (12%), body-in-white (11%), electrical and accessories (9%) and body panels (9%). However, comments from engineers surveyed reveal every vehicle component is being scrutinized for weight savings, from door latches to headlights.

In terms of what engineers are focusing on most to achieve lightweighting goals, aluminum not surprisingly is the first choice, favored by 27% of respondents, followed by multi-material solutions (16%), engineering plastics (13%), advanced high-strength steel (11%), advanced composites and carbon fiber (8%) and magnesium (1%).

However, respondents do not express much confidence in the ability of today’s materials portfolio to help the auto industry meet 2025 CAFE standards.

In written comments, many complain the advanced composites that have the strength and light weight necessary to do the job, from carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics to carbon-titanium and aluminum metal-matrix composites, still are too expensive to be practical.

Others say nothing less than “magic” or “Kryptonite” will allow them to hit 54.5 mpg by 2025.

“There is no silver bullet. Every part and vehicle system faces a different set of requirements,” DuPont’s Sternberg says. “The most effective approach involves value-chain collaboration to understand the needs and develop new materials, new designs, new manufacturing methods – or all three – to find solutions.”

Other highlights from the survey:

  • Respondents do not believe low-cost shale oil and gas are relieving the pressure to invest in the development of sustainable solutions. Only 26% believe this is either “definitely” or “probably” the case.
  • The role of electrification in meeting fuel-economy and emissions regulations still is evolving, 80% of respondents believe.
  • Hybrid-electric vehicles are receiving the most attention and resources (54%), followed by plug-in HEVs (42%) and engine stop/start systems (38%). Mild hybrids and battery-electric vehicles are thought to be most important by only 31% and 30% of respondents, respectively.
  • The majority of respondents (61%) report interest in 48V electrical systems has remained stable in the past year; 31% report it has increased.
  • With regard to alternative-fuel programs, respondents believe electrification is receiving the most attention and resources (57%), followed by diesel (41%) and compressed natural gas (25%).