Why do Volkswagen and ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe cooperate so closely in the area of lightweight vehicle construction? And why is it so important, here in particular,
to get the customer involved at an early stage? An interview with Dr. Martin Goede, Head of Technology Planning and Development at Volkswagen.
Dr. Goede, the Polo R WRC – the standard street version of the rally car that Sébastien Ogier drove to the championship title – comes with a front hood made of the LITECOR® hybrid steel material. What made you take this step?
Martin Goede: We at Volkswagen view lightweight design as a means to achieving our goal of sustainably reducing the fleet’s consumption. Lightweight car body construction represents an excellent savings potential, second only to engine efficiency – meaning fewer emissions being produced by the car’s engine. As Europe’s leading carmaker, we produce cars in large numbers, in particular for the mid- and low-price segment. So reduced weight must always be affordable. Therefore, innovative solutions developed by the steel industry that offer good value are very attractive for Volkswagen. ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe’s LITECOR® product fully convinced us. This highly modern material combination provides the basis for significantly reducing a car’s weight. LITECOR® offers very good characteristics and can be processed economically using conventional facilities.
In other words, you’re saying it’s not necessary to build a new plant to include LITECOR® in the production process?
Precisely. The material is suitable for processing in plants used to shape and join monolithic steel sheets. We’ve been involved in the development of LITECOR® for three years now, helping get it ready for mass production. The front hood of the Polo R WRC is an example of what we’ve achieved so far. This model was the ideal candidate for a pilot project as only 2,500 units were produced. The pilot facility of ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe is capable of handling this kind of volume. However, we require real-life production conditions to test a material for use in the Golf, Polo, or Passat. This is why we are planning to wait until 2016 before we will use select LITECOR® components for large-scale production.
What makes LITECOR® stand out is that material specialists and the customer started to cooperate closely at a very early stage. What benefit do both sides derive from this?
The sooner we start cooperating, the more efficiently we can enable manufacturers to qualify their product for our intended application. This is an advantage for both parties. But material development is not the only area where we’re collaborating – we’re also working together to advance joining technology and adapting our facilities to new materials. We have our own tool shop, so this allows us to provide manufacturers with helpful information on the specific products that the market requires. This goes a long way toward reducing development times greatly.
What part of an automobile is LITECOR® particularly suited for?
For lightweight construction of large body components demanding a high degree of rigidity, such as doors, tailgate, and engine hood, but also for interior parts such as the rear rack. For the time being, we are planning on using LITECOR® for hidden car body components and will, at a later point, expand its range of applications to the outer paneling.
What properties are required of future materials for automobile construction?
Less weight while maintaining the same features and providing increased strength plus improved elongation properties. The car body accounts for about one third of a car’s entire weight. This is why it makes a lot of sense to use lighter materials in this area. Materials of the future should be just as affordable, but at a fraction of the current weight.
Will all Volkswagen cars soon be made completely of LITECOR®?
This will never happen since a ‘sandwich’ material cannot satisfy all demands of the car body by itself. We will continue to use hot- and cold-formed steel sheets for parts that serve highly safety-relevant functions. I am expecting metal-based construction to continue to play the lead role at Volkswagen for many years to come. But the share of hybrids will rise. There’s a need for intelligent combinations: It’s all in the mix.