- Published in Q&A.
Weight reduction is essential to make vehicles more efficient: what is PSA looking at?
Several things – some five years away, others just before 2020. We have highly optimised steel structures today, now we’re building our strategy for aluminium. We’re challenging the aluminium industry to find the right alloys – 1,000-, 3,000-, 4,000-series – necessary for going to the mass-market. We cannot afford the classic aluminium grades used in sportscars, such as the 6,000-series.
How affordable is aluminium?
For closures we want to have specific materials which are as close as possible to the raw aluminium cost.
How will you achieve cost reduction?
If the mass-market car industry goes to aluminium, it's going to change the flat products market for aluminium. We're working with the R&D divisions of the aluminium producers – they're integrated in our more advanced projects. We have good partnerships: it’s worth spending money now to come out with a less expensive proposal. We really have to find a win-win solution together. And of course it’s also very stimulating for the steel industry.
Advances in aluminium have always prompted steel makers to come up with even higher strengths: will this continue?
Yes. But I think the steel industry has to go faster. They have always helped us to achieve higher performance each time we needed specific grades, especially for safety. But now they must show that they can still have good cost performance but bring us new weight reduction solutions. I know they are willing to.
Premium OEMs are investing heavily in composites: can these materials help you too?
We use some already but the challenge is to go to the most demanding components in composites. We think glass-fibre reinforced composites have really good potential. The real challenge is cycle times but there are solutions. There are some very interesting applications: structural, chassis parts – even springs. I have hundreds of proposals. We have to see if they're worth doing, but also if we can change the concept. A composite torsion beam would be lighter, but you change the design and the validation process – there's lots of extra work to ensure that fatigue life is OK. That's part of the work we're doing for small lightweight cars for the 2017-20 timescale. Considering that we're looking at new concepts, that's quite fast.
With so much to look at, how do you manage the R&D process?
How can I study hundreds of technologies compared to 15 just five years ago in the same area? Our feeling is that there's only one answer: until you choose your shortlist you have to stay open, and co-operate. Since October 2010 we've had what we call a scientific hub. This is where we display our goals and strategies to labs and they propose solutions and co-operation plans. We do this in France of course, but also throughout Europe, and we're expanding it to China. We already have three partnerships: two in Shanghai with Jiao Tong and Tongji universities, and one in Wuhan with Huazhong university. We're also investigating some in Beijing. This is a good way to detect technologies early on.
What role do suppliers play?
We developed policies for co-operation. For example, with EADS we provide knowledge and support on combustion engines – they do the same for us in composites. We're not saying that we'll develop joint products, because we don't really have an overlap, but we're sharing the burden of technology development and it works well. And we have a strategic partnership with Rhodia for composite materials. The challenge here is how we can achieve the quality of polyamide 6,6 going from thermosets to thermoplastics. We're looking at high-value parts of the vehicle. In our new axle concept, it's a challenge to make it cheaper than the steel solution.