Lightweight Materials in Transportation

Published - May 2007| Analyst - Andrew McWilliams| Code - AVM056A
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Report Highlights

  • The total global consumption of lightweight materials used in transportation equipment was 42.8 million tons/$80.5 billion in 2006 and will increase to 68.5 million tons/$106.4 billion by 2011, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.9% in tonnage terms and 5.7% in value terms between 2006 and 2011.
  • High strength steel accounts for the largest percentage of total tons of lightweight materials consumed, followed by aluminum and plastics. In value terms, plastics with their relatively high unit prices are the largest market segment. Aluminum and high strength steel are the second and third largest product segments.
  • Motor vehicles, particularly passenger cars and light trucks, are by far the largest end-user segment. Shipbuilding was the second largest consumer of lightweight materials, while the aircraft industry ranks second in the value of the lightweight materials consumed.


Reducing structural weight is one of the most important ways of reducing fuel consumption and improving the performance of motor vehicles and other types of transportation equipment. For example, an estimated 75% of the average motor vehicle's fuel consumption directly related to factors associated with vehicle weight

Less weight, consistent with other performance and safety requirements, means more useful work can be extracted from a unit of fuel or other energy source. In addition, weight-reducing technologies are critical to the success of new, highly efficient energy technologies such as hybrid vehicles.

Downsizing is one approach to reducing structural weight. However, practical considerations, safety standards, and consumer preferences combine to limit the potential for reducing the weight of most transportation systems further through downsizing.

The alternative to downsizing is the development of materials that combine relatively low mass (weight) with the requisite strength, flexibility, and other performance criteria. The aircraft industry was the first to introduce lightweight materials (e.g., aluminum alloys) on a widespread scale beginning in the 1920s. This continues today with the adoption of lightweight composite materials.

Other industries, particularly the automotive industry, did not embrace lightweight materials as rapidly as the aircraft industry. However, in the 1990s automakers doubled their use of aluminum in an effort to reduce vehicle weight to meet federal fuel economy standards. While the Aluminum Association projects that automotive demand for aluminum should slow in the early 21st century, automakers are now incorporating growing amounts of composites in their products.


This report:


  • Evaluates the uses of, and markets for, high-technology lightweight materials in key worldwide transportation markets. A comprehensive analysis of these materials across numerous transportation markets and detailed forecasts to 2012 is provided.
  • Quantifies market segments, sizes and futures, but also reinforces the growing trend toward globalization in manufacturing. Information presented gives you a hands-on estimate of how globalization in this key materials market is accelerating.
  • Includes present and projected future applications and materials and new market opportunities in these key segments: aeronautics and space, automotive, trucks, trailers, mass transit, bus, subway, etc., off-highway equipment, railroad cars, containers, recreational-sports vehicles, seagoing vessels
  • Covers materials by application including metals/metal alloys/MMCs, thermoplastics/thermosets, polymer matrix composites, hybrid structures, other materials and processing methods, too
  • Includes market shares, R&D developments, patent analyses and complete company profiles.



The information sources and methodologies used to develop the market projections in this report are discussed at length in the section on Global Market for Lightweight Materials in Transportation Applications, 2006-2011/Detailed Market Estimates and Projections. In general, BCC used the following approach:


  • Identified commercial as well as promising developmental materials and their target markets through a literature review and interviews with industry experts.
  • Estimated baseline (2005) market penetration ratio for each material and target market.
  • Developed forecasts of growth trends in each target market.
  • Analyzed technical, economic and other factors that will influence the ability of different materials to compete for a share of their respective market(s) and estimated future consumption of each material on this basis.


The report estimates the market for each technology in unit as well as cost terms. Average cost data for 2005 to 2006 were obtained from a variety of sources, including industry publications, manufacturers' price lists, and contacts with industry sources. Where possible, BCC has estimated 2011 prices based on factors such as historical price trends, supply/demand relationships, and overall levels of production.

The report carefully documents data sources and assumptions. This way, readers can see how the market estimates were developed and, if they so desire, they can test the impact on the final numbers by changing assumptions such as price.

Analyst Credentials

Andrew McWilliams, the author of this report, is a partner in the Boston-based international technology and marketing consulting firm, 43rd Parallel, LLC. He is the author of numerous other Business Communications Co. business opportunity analyses, including analyses of related markets such as Petroleum Fuel Optimization Technologies; Materials and Devices for High-Performance Sports Products; and Nanocomposites, Nanoparticles, Nanoclays, and Nanotubes.

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