$70m for manufacturers lightweighting automotive components

Nexteer Australia will receive $63 million of government funding to manufacture lightweighted steering and driveline systems — the latest in a stream of companies jumping on-board the automotive lightweighting trend.

Nexteer will receive the funding over the next three years to develop and manufacture the technology in Victoria, a venture which is expected to create more than 250 jobs in Victoria.

The federal and state funding follows a recent Federation of Automotive Products Manufacturers (FAPM) conference in Melbourne, during which automotive lightweighting technology was a major topic of discussion between Australian manufacturers and research companies.

Gary Stewart, MD of Lean Design Australia, said there are substantial opportunities to use lean design to reduce the weight of vehicles and improve sustainability of the automotive industry.

"There is a need to go to the root cause of cost, which is design. We need to design for whole of life and increase simplicity rather than adding more complexity," he said.

"We need completely different up-front thinking to replace multiple parts with a single part, and ensure robust designs are created before the steel is cut. It is possible to achieve 10 to 30% reductions in weight quite easily, as evidenced in the big improvements and savings at Boeing."

Nexteer’s new technology is expected to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption. 

Nexteer Automotive is an advanced steering and driveline systems producer and manufacturer with various subsidiaries around the world.

Nexteer’s grant, which comes as part of the government’s $5.4 billion New Car Plan, will help the company develop electric power steering systems, and lightweight steering column and drive line components.

Technology development for Nexteer’s new initiative will be supported by a new Melbourne Manufacturing Technical Centre.

This latest government grant follows four grants totalling over $6.2m from the Green Car Innovation Fund, recently provided to CFusion, Toyoda Gosei Australia, Composite Materials Engineering (CME) and Hirotec, to assist in the creation of lighter cars.

CFusion is using the funding to commercialise the world’s first one-piece carbon fibre automotive wheel, at about half the weight of aluminium wheels, and Toyoda Gosei will introduce and refine technologies for manufacturing lighter components such as body sealing and safety system products.

CME is using the funding to develop a high strength lightweight sandwich panel to be used in the load floor of Australian vehicles, while funding for Hirotec is aimed at producing lighter components including aluminium hoods and deck lids.

According to Innovation Minister, Senator Kim Carr, the Nexteer Australia project represents a major investment by a large global company in Australia’s automotive supply chain and brings new manufacturing capability here for the long term.

“These high technology components will drive a need for skilled labour and create new manufacturing jobs for Victoria,” Senator Carr said. 

Victorian Manufacturing, Export and Trade Minister Richard Dalla-Riva said the project was a vote of confidence in manufacturing in Victoria.

“Victoria will be one of the few places in the world manufacturing this world-class technology,” Dalla-Riva said. 

“This is one of Victoria’s biggest automotive investments in two decades and will further strengthen the sector’s manufacturing and export capabilities.” 

Greg Malone, Managing Director of Nexteer Australia, said the company’s focus through this new venture will be using a local supply and skills base to find key partners and become globally-competitive.

Image: One of Nexteer’s steering systems.