While AHSS remains the leader, carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRPs) can offer greater benefits, and aluminium alloys occupy the middle ground, according to the report.

Magnesium, the lightest structural metal, is hobbled by concerns about availability, and titanium’s cost continues to inhibit adoption outside of a few high-end applications, it says.

“Meeting the rising energy demand while minimising environmental impact and maintaining economic growth and opportunity is one of the most important issues of the 21st century – and using current energy reserves more efficiently will no doubt play a critical part,” notes Ross Kozarsky, Lux Research Analyst and the lead author of the report titled Structural Navigation: Optimising Materials Selection in Automotive and Aerospace.

“The transportation sector commands nearly one-third of global energy demand, providing a vast swath of saving opportunity, and enhancing operating efficiency with lighter structural materials is one of the most promising avenues towards achieving this goal,” he adds.

Lux Research analysts' findings include:

  • AHSS is the cost and availability leader. At an average price of US$1.70/kg, AHSS is the cheapest advanced structural material and available in plenty. Its affordable price is a significant advantage for high-volume vehicles, but properties aren’t as dazzling as some other materials, and its limited ductility and welding pose problems.
  • Aluminium is often the best short-term bet. Aluminium is second only to steel in cost and availability because of the scale brought by global giants like Alcoa, Rio Tinto Alcan and Rusal. Its alloys occupy the middle ground on the overall structural materials spectrum and in many uses is the best material to use in the short term without disrupting manufacturing paradigms.
  • Aerospace is decades ahead of automotive in CFRP. While new aerospace models like the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner employ over 50% CFRP by weight, on average polymer composites constitute less than 2% of an automobile’s total weight. This dichotomy in penetration has resulted in Boeing and Airbus enjoying longstanding relationships with major carbon fibre suppliers such as Toray, Teijin, Mitsubishi Rayon, Hexcel, Cytec and Formosa.

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