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The technology behind Ford’s Lightweight Concept Vehicle; prospects for Mach-II with 50% mass reduction difficult

Earlier this month, Ford unveiled its Lightweight Concept vehicle, which uses advanced materials to explore future weight-reduction solutions that could improve performance and fuel efficiency while reducing CO2 emissions. The Ford Lightweight Concept reduces the weight of a 2013 Fusion to that of a Ford Fiesta, resulting in a nearly 25% weight reduction. (Earlier post.)

The Ford vehicle is based on the first phase (Mach-I) of work of the DOE-supported Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicles project (Award DE-EE0005574) by Vehma International (an engineering and prototype division within the Cosma International operating unit of Magna) and Ford. The $20.3-million project ($10 million from DOE, $10.3 million from Vehma/Ford) has two main objectives. First, to design and build the “Mach-I” prototype vehicle maintaining donor vehicle architectural space and using commercially available or demonstrated materials and processes while delivering a 22% reduction compared to the baseline vehicle. The result of this is reflected in the Ford concept.

The second is to design a Mach-II concept vehicle—without architectural constraints—that will obtain a mass reduction of 50% compared to the 2002 Taurus baseline vehicle while still retaining the basic size attributes and customer accommodations of the vehicle.

The focus on the first phase of the project, emphasized Dr. Matt Zaluzec, Ford technical leader, Global Materials and Manufacturing Research, was the use of technologies that are targeting the use of mixed materials and that are available today. Using mixed materials to reduce weight will prove to be an important lightweighting strategy for certain vehicle segments, he noted.

I think you will see a lot of smaller cars find weight savings with advanced high strength steel. But the C/D car is where you are getting on the fence. Do you jump to all-aluminum, or do you start mixing materials? Aluminum will be very product specific; on the [new] F-150, its absolutely the right solution. A/B/C cars will find solutions with advanced high strength steel, C/D with mixed materials. In some D segment, SUVs and trucks, a lot more aluminum will creep in.

—Matt Zaluzec

DOE’s Lightweight and propulsion materials work
The DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office’s Materials Technologies program focuses on two main areas: lightweight materials and propulsion materials.
The Lightweight materials work is focused on lowering the cost and improving the properties of lightweight materials while maintaining safety, comfort, reliability, performance, recyclability, and cost.
Because it takes less energy to accelerate a lighter object than a heavier one, lightweight materials offer great potential for increasing vehicle efficiency. A 10% reduction in vehicle weight can result in a 6%-8% fuel economy improvement.
The propulsion materials area works closely with other VTO technology areas to identify and meet requirements for materials needed to develop cost-effective, highly efficient, and environmentally friendly next-generation heavy and light duty power-trains.

The Mach-I design demonstrated the integration of the lightweight material vehicle system into an existing OEM body shop, avoiding niche assembly/coating processes. The new MMLV components are being integrated in series-production vehicles to create full vehicles and subassemblies for testing.

Ford will test the results (FMVSS, NVH, Durability, and Corrosion) to validate that the Mach-I vehicle design is viable for OEM production. 

Design of the Mach-I was completed in the first quarter of last year; the full prototype build is in process, and will be completed in the third quarter of this year. Mach-II design and CAE is underway now.

Designing the Mach-II to achieve the targeted reduction of 50% from baseline is difficult, and the team has not reached the goal of 761 kg curb weight yet, said Dave Wagner from Ford during a presentation on the Mach-II project at the DOE Annual Merit Review this week in Washington, DC. Achieving the Mach-II target will need to include reduced and eliminated comfort and convenience content such as air conditioning as well as possible loss of performance, ride and handling, and so on.


[An earlier version of this attributed Dave Wagner’s remarks to Tim Skszek from Vehma. –Ed.]

The Mach-II is a design in progress…but the real value of this to the vehicle community is how far we can get in terms of weight reduction, and wishing in place some materials and processes that are just over the edge in terms of viability right now. How light could you make vehicles?

… Our Mach II design is still 150 kilos fat right now, and we’ve done everything we can think of. Clearly we have to think of some other things and what that will likely mean is reducing customer accommodations and reducing everything except critical safety requirements. It is required that your vehicle meet federal safety standards, it is not required that it has air conditioning. It is not required that you can hear people talking in the vehicle. We are still way heavy.

—Dave Wagner

The Vehma/Ford team divided the vehicle into 5 vehicle systems to tackle the weight reductions. The Mach-II design is still 150 kg over its target. What this has shown various groups inside Vehma and Ford, said Wagner, is that by the time you integrate all your weight-savings components into a great vehicle, you still have a lot of weight challenges. Click to enlarge.

Mach-I BIW. Among the components of the Mach-I design were eight high pressure aluminum die castings strategically designed to maximize stiffness and reduce part. The body castings will be anodized as pre-treatment for structural adhesive bonding and increased corrosion resistance.

Mach-I high pressure aluminum die castings. Click to enlarge.

Body-in-White (BIW) Modules developed included e-coated and non-e-coated assemblies; aluminum extrusions, aluminum & steel stampings; aluminum low pressure sand and high pressure die castings.

The team used Self Piercing Rivets (SPRs) as the main jointing technology on the BIW and closures (e.g., hood and trunk lids, doors). The team used flow screws, Riv-Tac, and Huck rivets were used along with structural adhesive where SPRs could not be used in the BIW and closure joints due to single side access, insufficient gun clearance, or base material issues.(All joints where corrosion may form have an adhesive layer between materials to prevent galvanic corrosion and to increase stiffness/durability of the joint.)

Two types of adhesive were used: air-cured and heat-cured. Steel-to-steel weld-thru adhesive was used at B-Pillar and front rails.

The front cradle used 6063-T6 aluminum extrusions and low pressure aluminum castings with mid-welded assembly and post-machined attachments. (6063-T6 is a medium-strength aluminum allow with silicon and magnesium as major alloy components.) The front bumper featured 6063-T6 aluminum crush cans and a 6082-T6 bumper beam.

The doors features 6063-T6 extrusions; aluminum stampings; steel reinforcements; and magnesium castings.

Mach-I powertrain. The team achieved weight reductions of 20% to 48% on components on the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine. A cast aluminum engine block with powder metal forged billet crackable bulkhead inserts saved 48%, or 11.8 kg.

Carbon fiber components played a large role with a CF structural oil pan saving 30%; a CF front cover with mount saving 30%; and a carbon fiber plus aluminum cam carrier saving 20%. Forged aluminum connecting rods saved 40%.

On the transmission, the team achieved a weight reduction of 30% to 60% on components for the reduced torque automatic transmission. A cast magnesium case and bell housing saved 30%; and aluminum pump cover saved 55%; a cast magnesium valve body saved 35%; and a steel and aluminum clutch hub (with a friction spin weld) saved 60%. 

Mach-I suspension. Prototype parts took out 30% of the suspension weight. Tall, narrow tires (155/70R19) made of new materials and constructions saved 30%. The cast aluminum or carbon fiber wheels saved 30%. (The Mach-I has no spare tire.) Aluminum brake rotors saved 35%, and hollow micro alloy steel coil springs saved 35-55%. High hardness steel stabilizer bars saved 35%.

Mach-I interior components and glazings. Carbon fiber seat designs saves ~28 kg, while a carbon fiber (or magnesium) instrument panel beam and ducts saved ~8 kg. MuCell and chemically foamed interior plastic trim saved 15% to ~40%.

A mix of lightweight glazings saved 35%. This included a laminated chemically toughened windshield, side door movable glazings, and polycarbonate rear window.

 Mach-II. The Mach-II design will be a “new design architecture” without architecture and integration constraint imposed by the donor vehicle and existing body shop BOP.


The Mach-II design BIW resulted in a 144 kg reduction from the baseline (45%). Click to enlarge.

The Mach-II BIW design makes a greater use of composites, while the closures, which rely heavily on magnesium, achieved a 47 kg reduction from baseline (51%). (The engineers are investigating joint technology for magnesium to steel/aluminum joints.)

The chassis is based mainly on aluminum extrusions and castings, and magnesium forgings. The front cradle is also being investigated as a composite structure.

Click to enlarge.


Mach-II powertrain. The engineers took more weight out of the powertrain, first simplifying the engine down to a 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder naturally-aspirated unit coupled with a 6 speed manual w/magnesium case. From a baseline mass of 340 kg, the Mach-II engine drops to 181 kg.

As part of the weight savings, the team developed a Multi Material Cylinder Block: a composite block body with aluminum sleeves and powdered metal bulkhead inserts.

Multi-Material Cylinder Block. Click to enlarge.

The team will achieve the targeted 50% reduction, Wagner said, but only through measures such as reducing and eliminating comfort and convenience features such as air conditioning, entertainment system, power seats and windows.

Further weight reduction opportunities in the chassis include reducing wheel and tire size (e.g., dropping to 15-inch), which will degrade ride and handling; reducing the bushing weight (which will degrade ride, handling and add interior vibration); and reduce the steering system weight (which will degrade responsiveness and add vibration.

Body exterior opportunities include more weight reductions in the BIW (degrading stiffness, ride, vibration and quietness); reducing or eliminating trim (degrading appearance, water ingress and quietness); and reducing mechanism weights (degrading durability and convenience).

One of the huge learnings from this is that weight saves in the primary structure do not scale to weight saves at the curb weight of the vehicle. We just can’t get there. We are reducing electric loads to get another kilo out of the battery. It’s just really difficult. We will achieve a 50% weight reduced vehicle. We will let go of all the customer requirements. This will be street legal, but that’s it. [It] is no way equivalent to the 2013 Fusion with the exception of passenger size. We are really up against it.

—Dave Wagner

(DOE AMR presentations will be published on the Annual Merit Review site.)

  • Tim Skszek, Jeff Conklin, “Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicles,” DOE AMR 2014 Project ID #LM072

  • Tim Skszek, Jeff Conklin, Matt Zaluzec, David Wagner, “Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicles: Mach-II Design,” DOE AMR 2014 Project ID#LM088



Well maybe they should back off a bit and settle for a 40% reduction in mass.
There is no point in making a car that is very light but has no comfort features such that no-one will buy it.

Better to build what they have now (at 911 kg) and see what it turns out like. Then try to get another 150 Kg out of it.

Maybe if you want to have a 760 kg car, it will have to be a bit smaller (Focus or Fiesta sized).


This argument could go both ways.

1. Why did one tonne ICE vehicles become 2 to 3 tonnes ICE vehicles after 120+ years of smart development?

2. Why were wheels-tires size changed rom 24" to 13" and back up to 22"?

3. Why did ICEs go from 4 cyls to V-12 and back down to 4 cyls and 3 cyls? and probably to 2 cyls soon?

4. Why did a Ford Model T pick-up weighted less than one tonne and a new F-150 is up to almost 3 tonnes and a Hummer I was up to almost 4 tonnes?

5. Why and why again. Anything to do with cheap liquid fuel consumption?


Marketing needs to get their nose out of this project. R19 tires ??

The use of a parallel twin engine should have been considered.
Modern three cylinder engines will develop enough power to exceed 100mph - seems no sacrifice there.

I would have expected they would be looking to develop both a lighter and less powered vehicle.

Dropping down to the two cylinder arrangement permits slightly more power per cylinder since with the 3-cylinder thermal limitations will apply to the center cylinder. Savings in the electrical component complexity also since only one igniter coil is necessary as opposed to the 3-cyl which will require three.

The Fiat 500 does quite well with its 900cc twin, although it is moderately turbocharged to 85Hp - but its 65Hp version when N/A isn't shabby either.

I predict that in ten years when Elon Musk gets around to implementing his skateboard style of EV powertrain onto this size of vehicle, automotive gasoline engines are going to be consigned to history anyway.


Does anybody else feel that they should be calling these iterations "Mark I" and "Mark II"? When I read mach I think of the speed of sound.


They could get way more bang for their buck by improving the vehicle's aerodynamics instead of hitting their heads against the wall of diminishing returns as far as weight reduction. Are they at least modelling this vehicle over a hatchback architecture instead of a sedan? It's a little hard to tell from the figures in this article.

And yeah, I know this research project only focuses on vehicle weight, but the real world is full of all that air you have to push through to get anywhere too.

Roger Pham

Should be Mark II instead of Mach II.

A comparison would be the concept car Toyota Ft-Bh hybrid with curb weight of 1733 lbs and a 2-cylinder 1-liter engine with hybrid drive train, capable of 112 MPG.

IMHO, weight reduction should be tried on lower hanging fruits such as the Fusion or C-max HEV . The light-weight body and suspension should shave off a lot of weight. Then, use the new solid-state battery capable of 50C in order downsize the engine to 1 liter 2 cylinders like in the Ft-Bh hybrid. Then, the electric drive train can be downsized, as well, thus savings in the cost of motors, inverter, copper wiring, and battery as well. Reduce the fuel tank to 1/3 current size, and put the 50-C solid-state battery in the hood to realize more cargo space to realize higher sale potential. The rear bench seat should be designed to be slidable downward and forward and the seat backrest foldable to give a flat yet very low contigous space that can carry a lot of large items and cargo...higher sale potential. A third row of foldable seats for children is possible in the space of the spare tire, thus increasing seating capacity to 7 instead of 5, thus turning into a near-minivan capacity with the fuel economy of ~100 MPG.

The much higher internal space capacity and increase seating capacity as well as doubling of MPG will fetch higher sale prices to make up for the increase in cost as the result of the use of light-weight materials and construction in the frame, though offset by the use of smaller engine, hybrid drive train and battery...perhaps more profits? Take a lesson from Tesla...now that Teslas' patents are offered free!

Roger Pham

Actually, the C-max should be dropped from the lineup, due to the aesthetically-challenged body and poor aerodynamics. The C-max can be replaced by a hatchback version of the Fusion hybrid, or a station wagon version, thus even more profits for Ford due to reduced production cost and inventory cost for not having to maintain a separate C-max lineup.


Maybe they are focusing on the wrong variable.
The problem is not mass, it is fuel consumption (FC).
Mass may have a strong correlation with FC, but FC is what matters.
Thus, a heavier hybrid would have better fuel consumption than an ICE only version of the same car, ditto for diesel.

@harvey, the vehicles we have now are incomparably safer, faster and more comfortable than the Model T's you hark back to - you could build a modern model T, with modern components and materials and it would be very light, but no-one would buy it and it would fail all the safety tests.
OK, they are heavier and consume more fuel than they should, but I would still rather drive around in one.

If you look at Europe, where fuel is roughly twice the cost of the USA, people drive cars of the same technological level as the US, but smaller, and 70% are diesels. (This demonstrates that people go for smaller, cheaper, rather than higher cost, higher tech cars when fuel gets expensive).

If the industry starts to take lightweighting seriously, obviously this will affect Europe as well but the biggest gains are probably to be made in the US where cars are generally larger, and driven by less efficient petrol engines.


@mahon - " you could build a modern model T, with modern components and materials and it would be very light, but no-one would buy it and it would fail all the safety tests."

In the 1950's - when families were larger - VW, Toyota, Mini, .. designed/sold 10's of millions of cars weighing ~1600 lb(727 kg) that met today's highway

It would be interesting to see how these proven designs fare with much lighter modern materials/drive trains. Air bags are light, 3D printing could be 'quick and dirty', and the third(+) world might buy these like rice.


It is not impossible to build a lighter safer vehicle.
They existed, as Kelly pointed out.

Much lighter materials exist and could be used. Passengers & pedestrians protection could be further improved with improved padded dashboard, air bags, padded bumpers etc. Driverless future (lighter) vehicles will be much safer and could eliminate most of the current 592,000 yearly road fatalities and 10X as many serious injuries.

Improved aerodynamics and less weight (why lug 4,000+ lbs around when 2,000 can do the job) could make e-car go almost twice as far with the same inadequate heavy batteries. Of course, future improved batteries will even do better.

Most of us do not need 300 to 600 hp, 4,000+ lbs, 17 mpg monsters to go from point A to point B. My wife Prius does it very well and my Camry Hybrid does a very respectable job too using a lot less fuel. However, they are both 30% to 40% too heavy and could do much better if they were lighter.

More aluminium, magnesium, alloys and composites and less steel will be used in future lighter electrified vehicles. New coatings exist to stop steel parts from rusting to extend the average car life from 12 to 20+ years.

The days when people bought a vehicle by the pound, believing that heavier was better, may be over soon.

Roger Pham

Cars used to be smaller and lighter, but MFG's made them slightly bigger and consequently heavier each year to increase customer appeal, plus more powerful engines to increase acceleration for purely commercial reason. The Corolla used to weigh 2400 lbs in 1980, but now almost 3,000 lbs and twice as powerful. Plus, the Gov. raised crash safety standard and more safety equipments thus forcing heavier structures.

>>>>"Most of us do not need 300 to 600 hp, 4,000+ lbs, 17 mpg monsters to go from point A to point B." But that's what THEY WANT!!! And they are getting it. They want more presence on the road and safety in larger sizes.

It cost hardly anything to make a car bigger, because steel and plastic are still very cheap, but a bigger car justifies significantly bigger price tag, therefore, that's what we are seeing. Profit motive! It was not until fuel prices escalated that we started to see the appearance of smaller cars. Otherwise, 2-3-ton Detroit floater would have continued to reign supreme.

Roger Pham

Hopefully, technology will be able to make a car BIG but still LIGHT and hence still fuel efficient and haul a lot of cargo and people! That's what will sell, and MFG's cannot ignore. Lots of internal space and lots of passenger capacity for the money and a given MPG rating.


Race cars show you can build strong, light and safe vehicles, but they cost more than $1 million each. 10% weight reduction would be cost effective, with more aerodynamic for better highway mileage. Make them hybrids with small turbo engines and you have a winner.


It will soon be possible to use re-enforced plastics, composites and aluminum-magnesium alloys to make lighter, more aerodynamic, more efficient e-cars with more than enough internal space (110 cu. ft.) for our increasing over weight population. Obese, (over 300 lbs) drivers and passengers could use those larger pick-ups or trucks if they can be winched in?


Excuse Harvey, he was abused by an overweight union bus driver as a child.

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