03 Feb
A new, complex alloy could pave the way for ultra-lightweight fleet vehicles.

Is tomorrow’s fleet vehicle set to be lightweight and maintenance free?

The materials used in the shell of most cars, vans and trucks is widely the same. While many high-end models are using increasingly expensive carbon-fibre composites, the average vehicle out and about on the road has a body made from steel.

The relatively cheap cost of the material is what's driven its popularity. However, steel is far from perfect. Specifically, older vehicles can rust and corrode if not looked after properly, and the maintenance costs of repairing such damage can quickly start to add up.

For fleet managers in particular, who have a large number of vehicles to keep up to standard, a widespread corrosion issue could seriously hit their company's bottom line. Autos.com suggested that the average cost of a rust repair is somewhere between $500 – $1,000, but that figure can spiral in particularly severe cases.

Moreover, unless it's treated correctly, problems with body panel corrosion will continue to get worse. So, what's the answer? Well, thorough and effective preventative measures and maintenance are one thing, but what if the cars, vans and trucks of tomorrow simply don't corrode because they can't?

Lightweight and corrosion free

Well, that could now be a distinct possibility after researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) discovered a unique, lightweight and rust-proof alloy. The melding of magnesium and lithium has created a metal that's 30 per cent lighter than magnesium itself, yet just as strong.

Potentially, the alloy could replace a number of common metals – such as the aforementioned steel – that are widely used in the automotive sector.

"This is the first magnesium-lithium alloy to stop corrosion from irreversibly eating into the alloy, as the balance of elements interacts with ambient air to form a surface layer which, even if scraped off repeatedly, rapidly reforms to create reliable and durable protection," explained Professor Michael Ferry from UNSW.

Will the fleet vehicles of the future be constructed using ultra-lightweight alloys?Will the fleet vehicles of the future be constructed using ultra-lightweight alloys?

Less maintenance, better economy

The new discovery could pave the way for a raft of cars, vans and trucks that are essentially more durable and lightweight in equal measure. Consequently, from the perspective of fleet managers at least, this could certainly prove to be a huge positive in two ways.

Firstly, maintenance costs could be kept down to a minimum – especially with the aforementioned work that occasionally has to be carried out on rust – across vehicles that are made of the more traditional steel.

Secondly, lightweight vehicles will almost certainly be more efficient than heavier peers, ensuring that the company maximises the potential value of any fuel cards it uses. In fact, weight can have a particularly big impact on economy at large.

Trimming weight to save fuel

Autoblog contributor Sebastian Blanco explored data from the US Environmental Protection Agency and found that every 100 pounds of a vehicle's overall weight accounts for 1-2 per cent of its economy.

Consequently, in a particularly heavy vehicle that's made from the newly-discovered alloy – which is significantly lighter than steel – the cost savings on the amount of petrol and diesel used are immense.

Naturally, fleet managers who send their drivers out onto roads across New Zealand with a considerable amount of cargo in tow are unlikely to be able to cut down the weight of their vehicles easily.

However, thanks to the newly-discovered magnesium-lithium alloy and other material advancements that could well be on the horizon, the fleet cars, vans and trucks of the future are likely to be far more lightweight than what businesses have become accustomed to today.