Revised Fuel Economy Standards Won’t Put the Brakes on Adhesive and Sealant Growth

Posted on 8/25/2016 3:13:30 PM By Marc Benevento

Recent media reports suggest federal regulators may lower the fleet-wide average fuel economy requirement of 54.5 miles per gallon established for 2025.  This comes as somewhat of a surprise, because OEMs have adopted fuel saving technologies more quickly than anticipated, and at a similar or lower cost than originally thought.  Among the technologies employed to improve fuel efficiency include an array of lightweight materials that have required the use of adhesives in vehicle assembly to solve joining challenges. 

Because fuel economy regulations were the driver for the increase in adhesive consumption, one might wonder if a roll back of the requirements will result in a reduction of adhesive use.  This is unlikely, because manufacturers have realized that increasing the use of adhesives and sealants is a cost effective way to meet targets for safety, performance, and comfort, while at the same time reducing weight.These are features that help make vehicles more appealing to consumers, so expect to see the use of adhesives and sealants proliferate rather than decline.

Crash safety is achieved by creating structures that progressively dissipate the energy of the collision to minimize the forces transmitted to occupants.  The addition of structural adhesives along spot weld lines can increase the amount of energy absorbed by a frame rail, which allows thinner gauges of metal to be used while maintaining or improving crash performance.  As a result, there has a been a significant increase in the amount of structural adhesive used in the average vehicle body, due to the fact that adhesives are helping car manufactures simultaneously meet safety goals and reducing weight.

Handling and performance are important selling features, particularly for luxury and sports cars. In order to handle well, the vehicle body must resist twisting when forces are applied during cornering.  An indicator of performance is torsional rigidity, which measures the amount of force required to twist the body a specified amount.  Structural adhesives have demonstrated the ability to increase torsional rigidity, thereby improving the driving experience for customers.  Therefore, manufacturers of performance oriented vehicle are increasing the amount of structural adhesives used in their vehicles because adhesives help deliver a satisfying driving experience.

Managing the amount of Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) is critical to the comfort of vehicle occupants, and is used as a differentiator within and across segments.  Quieter vehicles are more comfortable and perceived as having higher quality.  Application of adhesives and sealants to the vehicle body can eliminate sound paths to the cabin and help make vehicles quieter and more comfortable for occupants.  Furthermore, it can be simpler and less costly to apply adhesives and sealants to the body as it is constructed than to add layers of insulating material to the interior as it is installed on a cramped assembly line.  For this reason, adhesives and sealants are being applied in greater volumes in the weld and paint areas in order to improve consumer comfort and perceived quality while reducing the overall cost and complexity of the NVH package to manufacturers.

Finally, the 2025 target of 54.5 MPG was established based on an anticipated sales mix of 67% cars and 33% trucks.  This mix was estimated based on rising gasoline prices, which would have provided an incentive for consumers to purchase smaller, more fuel efficient cars.   However, gasoline prices have fallen since the regulation was established, and consumer preferences have shifted more toward trucks, such as SUVs, crossovers, and pickups.  The current sales mix is slightly skewed toward trucks, and the suggested target of 52.6 MPG for 2025 would reflect this sales mix.  Larger vehicles tend to require more adhesives because it simply takes more adhesive to bond the body and glass in comparison to smaller cars.  Because of this, a revised target could encourage greater consumption of adhesives and sealants.

Automobile manufacturers have successfully integrated a wide variety of new technology into vehicles in response to challenging fuel economy regulations and consumer demands.  In the process, adhesives and sealants have demonstrated value not only for addressing joining challenges, but also for improving vehicle safety, performance, and comfort.  As a result, expect the use of adhesives and sealants to increase in the automotive industry regardless of changes to fuel economy regulations.

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