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Follow these material trends to prepare your shop for the future

Friday, September 6, 2019 - 06:00
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Interested in a vehicle whose design reveals the engineering philosophy OEMs use to build vehicles today and points to what the future golds? Consider the Dodge Challenger GT. First manufactured in 2017, the Challenger GT is retro, modern and futuristic. It’s both daring and conservative, exciting and reserved, practical and maddening—all at the same time.

Start with the exterior. No other current car better recalls a past era. Large, wide with its traditional muscular stance, and heavy, the Challenger arrives in a range of eye-popping colors and designs right out of 1967. It’s also the muscle-car reimagined for today, with a luxurious leather interior, and an array of standard and optional safety-equipment, including blind-spot cross path detection and backup warnings. Most notably, it includes AWD, becoming the first vehicle of its kind to find a welcome place on northern roads during the winter. It also fits three adults or children in baby seats in the back. Mated to a V-6 306-hp engine, power output is decent, and gas mileage is respectable.

(Photo courtesy of Subaru Media) While the exteriors of the 2019 and 2020 (l-r) Subaru Outbacks may appear identical, the structure of the newer model features a significant upgrade in HSS use to boost safety.

The lack of a hemi-engine and its family-friendly posturing has some muscle traditionalists howling, “Who is the GT for?”

The answer: Anyone who wants the muscle-car look in a more practical vehicle. This answer also reveals the thinking behind much modern automotive design. Manufacturers build on strengths (in this case, appearance) and then take steps to make it accessible to more customers. The use of alternative materials follows the same philosophy.

Across the industry and brands, OEMs don’t restrict themselves to one particular formula using HSS, aluminum and other materials. They instead employ a number of material mixes that best build on a vehicle’s existing strengths while keeping it accessible (typically, holding down costs). This information can be critical when working in the collision repair industry. Shops must remain curent on the direction of vehicle design to ensure they map out their futures correctly.

The following vehicles are experiencing some major influxes of alternative materials in their structures and parts. Note how they employ this material philosophy and consider how it will influence the ways you do business.

Safety first

Put a new 2020 Subaru Outback beside the 2019 model, and you probably won’t notice any significant differences, on the outside at least. Underneath that familiar skin is a major transformation. The Subaru Global Platform on the Outback features a substantial increase in the use of HSS.

The reason: According to Youichi Hori, Outback Project General Manager in Japan, safety is paramount at Subaru. Therefore, achieving the highest safety ratings is a top priority. High-strength steels are a key solution to improving crash safety; therefore, their use has increased, Hori says.

For the 2020 model, HSS utilization jumps from 7.2 percent to 20.4 percent. Hot-press steel, the strongest HSS, is used to fortify areas that best protect vehicle occupants. It forms the B-pillar to better protect against side impacts, along with both bumper guards and parts of the bottom structure, for front and rear collisions.

Also new is 108 feet of structural adhesive as well as two-component structural foam for increased body-rigidity (Note: the adhesive does not replace welds). Subaru says these additions have made the structure 70-percent stiffer in both torsional and front-suspension rigidity and 100-percent stiffer in both front lateral flexural and rear subframe rigidity, compared to the previous Outback platform.

The result is a new Outback (whose hallmarks have long been safety and stability) that is safer and rides better than its predecessor while costing just $335 more.

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