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Are Titanium Cars The Future of Automobile Design?

Most cars are primarily made of steel, even though titanium is just as strong and twice as light. Titanium is already widely used in aircraft and other industrial applications, but not as much in automobiles. Although the lightweight metal may seem like the material of choice for cars, it wasn’t until very recently that car manufacturers started incorporating titanium into their designs.

Why Don’t Most Car Designs Use Titanium?

Titanium is extremely lightweight, strong and corrosion-resistant, so one would think that the metal would be widely used in automobile design. But titanium has been largely limited to racing cars and a handful of top-of-the-line road models. Why? Cost is a huge factor that prevents car manufacturers from using titanium more in their passenger car designs. Even though titanium is one of the most abundant metals in the earth’s crust, its mining and manufacturing processes are very complex, making titanium production much more expensive compared to that of other metals.

However, because of emerging technologies like lower cost alloys and low-cost manufacturing methods, titanium production is becoming less costly. And as the demand for more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly cars increases, it’s likely that more car manufacturers will incorporate lightweight titanium into their designs. Because using titanium in automobile designs decreases weight, it makes vehicles more fuel-efficient. A standard titanium plate has a high strength to weight ratio, and with its corrosion resistance at high temperatures, this exotic metal is perfect for high-performance vehicles.

How Can Titanium Be Used Effectively In Cars?

With today’s technology, creating a passenger car that’s predominantly made of titanium isn’t very practical. Though the metal is strong and light, it’s not very elastic and is difficult to manipulate. But it can be done. In 2016, Italian design firm Icona introduced the world’s first supercar with a titanium and carbon fiber body, the Vulcano Titanium. A powerful, beautiful automobile, the Vulcano has titanium quarter panels that are just .05 millimeters thick — the product of around 10,000 hours of handcrafting and delicate hammering. However, this car is more of a work of art, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see mass-produced titanium-bodied cars in the near future.

So where can titanium be used effectively? The strong and light metal is currently used in certain parts of high-performance internal combustion engines, such as valves, retainers, valve springs and connecting rods. Titanium is also perfect for springs used on the vehicle body itself. The “ideal” spring optimizes weight and space, and titanium springs are 50 to 80 percent smaller and 60 to 70 percent lighter than their steel counterparts.

And because titanium is resistant to corrosion, they’re ideal for certain components of exhaust systems. In the US, environmental agencies require exhaust systems to be corrosion-resistant to upwards of 100,000 miles, making titanium the prime choice. Though titanium may not be suitable for the entire system, they’re perfect for parts where the metal temperature does not exceed 400ºC for extended periods of time, such as silencers and pipework.

Price is the only factor hindering most automobile manufacturers from using more titanium in their designs. But with the decreasing manufacturing cost of titanium, it’s only a matter of time before this metal becomes incorporated into more automobiles. Once this metal becomes more widely used in mass-produced cars, we can expect to see more efficient and powerful vehicles on the road.