In the early 1800s, horse-drawn carriages were used as a main mode of transportation. While they are much different than the cars we have today, they both have one thing in common: a chassis.
Once the idea of cars sprouted up by the 1890s, carriage makers were put to work to design chassis for cars. They used their knowledge of wooden carriage-building to create the bodies of the world’s first automobiles. Because wood could only bend in certain ways, however, early cars were boxy and simple, not unlike their carriage predecessors.
Not long after that, metal fabrication became a popular trade and automakers started experimenting with building metal chassis to replace wood. While steel had been used thousands of years before the 20th century, fabricators were just learning how to turn it into sheets. Ford’s 1908 Model T car was among the first to use metal chassis, but because of the car’s popularity, many people forget about the innovation of Dodge.
From Steel to Aluminum
In 1914, Dodge built the very first all-steel-bodied automobile, which changed the world of car building. The steel car was such a success, it was the primary design for the majority of cars by the late 1930s. While wood was still used for some elements, its use diminished when “woodie” wagons were phased out in the 1950s.
Steel was used to build car chassis and car bodies up through the early 1970s and beyond. In the late 1970s, however, metal fabricators began experimenting with aluminum on everyday cars (as opposed to race cars, which had already discovered the benefits of aluminum). For the past 40 years, the use of aluminum in the car industry has grown significantly. Manufacturers have found that aluminum:
- Can reduce the weight of a car
- Can make a car faster
- Can absorb twice the crash energy of steel
- Uses less energy when produced
- Can be recycled at the end of a car’s life
While many hoods, trunks, bumpers, and suspension arms are already made from aluminum, companies like Ford are building vehicles with aluminum body panels. Because the 2015 F-150 truck is built with aluminum, it’s 700 pounds lighter than its steel predecessor. Future aluminum-bodied cars include the 2016 Jaguar XE and the 2016 Cadillac CT6, while others (like the Toyota Camry and the Lexus RX) will be getting revamped with aluminum parts.
You’ve probably heard of carbon fiber, a material woven from thin strands of carbon. Carbon fiber is five times stronger than steel and twice is stiff. It’s also incredibly expensive to make, so it’s often used for fast, luxury cars. If the price of production goes down, however, we may see more carbon fiber in our everyday cars of the future.