Thanks to a string of innovations in the past few years and tireless R&D work, the global market for automotive manufacturing continues to grow. The industry is currently valued at $2.7 trillion, with an increase of 9.7 per cent compared to last year, according to IBIS World. A large chunk of these innovations is driven by new methods and the increased availability of rare metals. Everything from structural strength, component durability, and even average car battery lifespan is affected by how well we can utilize the metals we have on hand. Here’s how we’ve been doing just that.

Magnesium alloy structures

Magnesium has long been used to create aluminium alloys for body panelling, as a lightweight substitute for steel. It was never considered as the main component of an alloy, however, due to the difficulty in shaping it and its relatively low strength. That was until researchers from the Japanese National Institute of Materials Science, in conjunction with the Nagaoka University of Technology, developed a new magnesium-based alloy.

Unveiled in 2017, the new alloy is even lighter than steel and aluminum. This gives manufacturers a cheaper option for lightweight car bodies and panelling. The new alloy has the same formability as most medium-strength aluminum alloys. It also comes with the added advantage of being corrosion resistant thanks to being chiefly composed of magnesium. The technology is still in the process of implementation to mainstream car design, as there are some kinks that need to be worked out, such as further strengthening and improving formability even further for use in modern car body shells. But in the future, magnesium could play a pivotal role in advancing auto structural design.

Titanium frames and components

Titanium has a track record of being used in vehicles subject to extreme conditions, such as aircraft, spacecraft, and racecars. This makes the metal a natural fit for some of the more stressed parts of a car, such as exhaust systems, suspension springs, and engines. This remarkable strength means manufacturers can use less of the material to make components, thus leading to the whole assembly being lighter overall. But as with other rare metals, the natural barrier was the price.

However, the price of titanium has been on a downward trend in recent years. Coupled with advanced machining and processing techniques, the metal has much more utility in auto manufacturing than ever before. Hence, a future in which titanium becomes a common component of a car’s internals has become a lot more realistic. Some manufacturers are also looking at the potential for solid titanium products, such as a titanium metal bar when designing body frames. The resistivity and strength of titanium can ensure that those parts stay rigid even after experiencing excessive impact. This means that manufacturers have better control over which parts of the car body hold their shape and which ones crumple or deform by design.

Improved lithium batteries

The tide of electric vehicles has come, but it’s exposing more and more issues with EVs than we first anticipated. The cost to own and mileage are two chief problems that need to be addressed. But with advancements in incorporating lithium into EV batteries, we’re getting closer than ever to realizing the dream of electric cars on par with conventional ones.

The most promising example of this is the lithium-sulfur battery. Far surpassing lithium-ion, these batteries can carry an EV 620 miles/1000 kilometres on a single charge. To put that in perspective, the most advanced EVs today can travel 300 miles on a full charge, and the average gas car doesn’t go above 400. To add to that, lithium-sulfur is a lot more sustainable than traditional Li-ion batteries.

Now that research and development have kicked into high gear once more, we can expect much more promising progress with these metals from here on out. These are only three of the major metals that manufacturers have set their sights on in order to improve the auto design. As we find better ways to harmonize all these components with each other, we’ll see vehicle innovations improve by leaps and bounds.