German supplier and contract car assembler Wilhelm Karmann has introduced a new lightweight structural material for auto bodies.
The material, called Three Dimensional Aluminum Foam, is a sandwich of sheet aluminum with a core of aluminum foam. It can be stamped like sheet metal but is up to 50 percent lighter and 10 times stiffer than steel.
Karmann does not yet have any contracts for the material, but it will propose the material to auto manufacturers for use in low-volume, niche vehicle floorpans, firewalls, roof panels and luggage compartment walls.
Up to 20 percent of a typical automobile structure could contain the material, said Wolfgang Thurow, vice president of technical development, sales and marketing. He said the weight of a small sedan could be reduced by 60kg, for example.
Panels made from the material would cost 20 percent more to produce than steel panels, said Karmann, but that cost would be balanced by a simplified body structure.
The material could be used in production within three to five years, said the company.
Karmann, based in Osnabruck, assembles the Mercedes-Benz CLK, Volkswagen Golf and Audi convertibles. It has 6,500 employees and had 1996 sales of $650 million.