Recently completed research sponsored by the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration sought to identify and evaluate the safety benefits of structural plastics and composites applications in future lighter, more fuel efficient, and environmentally sustainable vehicles.

A finite element model was used to reduce the weight of a Silverado pickup truck’s ladder frame with a carbon fiber-thermoset matrix braided composite, and then conduct crash test simulations to evaluate the impact of weight reduction.  The lightweight model vehicle contained about 442 kg of plastic and composites, which represents about 23.6 percent of the total weight of the lightweight vehicle. Overall vehicle weight was reduced 19 percent.

The study found vehicle mass reduction contributes to a decrease in the vehicle frontal intrusion when a baseline and lightweighted vehicles have similar frontal structure stiffness characteristics. Further, the deceleration of a vehicle was more likely to be dependent on the vehicle stiffness and crash mechanisms, rather than vehicle mass reduction.  The light-weighted vehicles using advanced plastics and composites provide equivalent structural performance (intrusion and crash pulse) to the baseline vehicle in the full frontal impact condition.