GM Goes Smart – For Their Vehicle Parts

Aside from developing functional systems like GM tailgate handle for the company’s trucks, SUVs and hatchbacks, GM is also developing new high-end materials for their vehicles in various GM brands. Last week at the General Motors Corp. Research and Development Center, researchers and scientist demonstrated their latest development in using the so called “smart” materials technology for GM products. These GM smart materials include shape memory alloys and polymers, which can change their shape, strength, and stiffness accompanied by heat and other certain factors.

Here are some few examples of GM’s development in smart materials:

To control of the airflow into the engine, a shape memory alloy-activated louver system will be used. This smart material functions to reduce the cooling airflow into the engine compartment and reduces aerodynamic drag. The result is improved aerodynamics and drag reduction and rapid warm-up during cold engine start up. While air dams are frequently damaged by low-speed impacts during parking situations and certain objects like ramps, snow, and ice, GM developed an “active” air dam that is activated by a shape memory alloy. The active air dam can monitor vehicle speed, and with the use of 4-wheel drive (4WD) configuration, the vehicle lowers or raises the air dam to improve the vehicle’s aerodynamic drag. Lastly, GM also developed and tested a grab handle that also uses shape memory alloys to move into position by using a temperature-activated shape memory combined with the changes in the handle’s stiffness. All of these three newly developed auto parts features a shape memory alloy.

According to Alan Taub, GM Executive Director of Research & Development,

“These new smart materials follow a long list of material applications we are already using. A few examples include novel aluminum forming processes that provide enhanced body panels and lightweighting, polymer nanocomposites that provide superior mechanical properties at lower cost, and magnetorheological fluids for improved chassis systems.”

“The properties inherent in shape memory alloys and polymers have the potential to be game-changers in the automotive advanced materials field, eventually leading to vehicle subsystems that can self-heal in the event of damage, or that can be designed to change color or appearance.” he further explained.

General Motors plans to incorporate the smart materials technology in GM branded vehicles starting in 2010.