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Lightweight wheels for heavyweight applications

Heavy vehicle OEMs are coming under pressure to reduce emissions as road freight transport accounts for around 6% (and growing) of the EU’s total CO2 emissions.

With major advances already having been made in engines and transmission the focus has shifted to reducing weight if the European Union (EU) is to meet its goal of reducing overall CO2 emissions by 30% by 2030. In addition to reducing fuel consumption aluminum wheels can help save fuel, improve tire life, and reduce maintenance expenses.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Randall Scheps, Vice President and General Manager Alcoa Wheel Products Europe, Africa and Middle East what are the trends in the HD segment in terms of light weighting, TMPS, CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency.

Scheps: We see a couple of trends that are really going to shape the HD segment for the next 10 or more years. In the medium term, the trend is CO2 reduction. The EU won’t meet its target without tackling transport. This is likely going to mean increases in all kinds of fuel saving technologies like TPMS (tire pressure monitoring), aerodynamic improvements, alternative powertrains, platooning, and, of course, light weighting. Euro VI added 125kg to the average truck and reduced its payload capacity by an equal amount. Fleets need to cut as much weight as possible to regain that lost revenue generating capacity. We have seen the penetration of forged aluminum wheels into the market grow rapidly in the last three years as fleets look for ways to cut weight.

AI: How is light weighting achieved by OEMs in general and what is Alcoa wheels’ contribution?

Scheps: Many truck OEMs are offering lightweight packages or payload optimized designs now. Typically they include lightweight suspension and chassis components as well as forged aluminum wheels. Saving 100 kg in weight save can mean €1,000 per year in extra revenue, especially for weight sensitive fleets. In a typical 12 wheel truck/trailer configuration Alcoa wheels save 230 kg vs. steel. Some fleets see payback on the investment in forged aluminum wheels in as little as 18 months.

AI: What are the environmental benefits of your wheels?

Scheps: Our wheels are “Cradle to Cradle” certified, meaning they have a net positive impact on the environment and society. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable without loss of properties, so the truck wheel you see today could have been an aircraft component or a car hood in a former life. And, when its useful life as a truck wheel is over, it can be recycled into a brand new wheel with no loss of strength or properties. Incredibly, 75% of all the aluminum ever produced by mankind is still in productive use today. Speaking specifically about CO2, replacing steel wheels on a 12 wheel truck/trailer unit saves 13.3 tons of CO2 over the life of the truck. This number includes the CO2 generated from the manufacturing of the wheel itself. It is quite amazing to think that a single 23.5kg forged aluminum truck wheel can save 1,100kg of CO2.

AI: How important is light weighting for public transportation and how do you help in that area?

Scheps: Public transport is an exciting area for us. The value proposition is strong and we are seeing growing interest from city fleets in upgrading to aluminum. Two key trends are at work. One is general cost pressure on fleet operators. We have trials running all around Europe with city fleets and the results are encouraging. We are seeing well over 1% of fuel saving which may not sound like a lot, but it can mean large annual savings for 1,000 or 2,000 bus fleet. As an example, Lothian Buses, a UK-based bus fleet, fitted Alcoa wheels on a number of its hybrid buses and measured and compared the performance with buses on steel. After six months they found a significant drop in their spending on fuel and maintenance. Many people don’t realize that our wheels are five times stronger than steel wheels, so there is less downtime due to damaged wheels from rough roads or hitting curbs. The other major trend at work in the bus market is electrification. Alcoa was involved very early with E-bus makers helping them lightweight to improve the range of E-Buses. Offsetting the weight of the battery packs is vital to improving range. We can save 90kg for a non-articulated bus and up to 150kg for an articulated bus, which is why you see aluminum wheels on most electric buses. One common theme is that all the new fuel saving technologies in buses (electric, hybrid, CNG, fuel cell) are heavier than traditional diesel buses. The battery pack in an E-bus can weigh 1,400 kg. So, the search for saving weight is only going to get more important.

AI: What milestones do you have coming up this year?

Scheps: 2016 is a big year for us. We will announce our lightest and strongest heavy-duty truck wheel, called Ultra ONE™. The wheel is already on the road in the US and we are excited to bring it to Europe. It will be the lightest forged aluminum truck wheel in Europe. The Ultra ONE™ wheel is made of a new alloy called MagnaForce™. It is the strongest wheel alloy on the market, and is 17% stronger than the industry-standard 6061 alloy. Thanks to this stronger alloy, we could redesign the wheel, making it lighter without compromising strength. The 22.5×9.00″ Ultra ONE™ wheel is expected to be about 7% lighter than our current wheel. The new design is compatible with TPMS. The rim horn allows for adhesive and clip-on weights. We also launched the LvL ONE® surface finish this year. LvL ONE® is a unique and patented shiny finish that gives fleets a bright wheel at a similar price point to our Brushed wheel. Market acceptance has been strong.

AI: How is Alcoa positioned globally at present?

Scheps: Alcoa forged aluminum wheels are the market leader in every major market around the world, but we are not resting. We are bringing great new technology like Dura-Bright® which is our patented surface treatment that eliminates the need to polish wheels. We are continuously pushing to bring better service to our OEM and fleet customers. In Europe we have grown our field sales force by 50% this year to give better on-site service to our customers. We will add six new distributors around Europe bringing our total to 41 in order to make buying more convenient.

AI: What are your investment plans?

Scheps: We heavily invested this year in our plant in Hungary to expand our capacity and to bring in Ultra ONE™ technology. The expansion will be another milestone for the plant which is celebrating its 20 year anniversary this year. We have invested over €70M in the last 10 years in building our world-class manufacturing footprint in Europe and we will continue.

AI: What else can we expect from Alcoa in the future?

Scheps: Look for Alcoa to continue to bring innovative products to market to help fleets. If you look at our history, we always have a continuous flow of new product technology and manufacturing capability coming to the market. You can expect that to continue. Exciting times are ahead for sure.  

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Mon. June 24th, 2024

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