Advanced "smart materials" found in 2014 Corevette

Posted by Thomas Anderson

The engineering and technology found in the upcoming 2014 Chevrolet Corvette is quite impressive.

Indeed, the vehicle boasts an all-new aluminum frame, shedding almost 100 pounds off the weight of the previous iteration of the 'vette.

Chevrolet has also confirmed that its 2014 Corvette will be the first vehicle ever produced to use a lightweight "Smart Material," which the auto manufacturer describes as a heat-activated shape memory alloy. As expected, the special material is used to replace heavier motorized parts to perform a simple function for the new Corvette.

As auto enthusiasts know, the trunk lid of the Corvette is notoriously difficult to close because of trapped air inside the vehicle.

For 2014, Chevrolet has introduced a vent that opens to allow air to escape when the trunk is shut.

However, rather than using a motor that would add weight to the vehicle, Chevrolet integrated a shape memory alloy wire to open the vent whenever the deck lid is opened.

This wire is connected to an electrical source that comes on in the same manner as trunk lights would when the deck lid is opened. When the deck lid is opened, an electrical current applied to the alloy wire causes it to heat up and change shape. When the wire changes in shape, it opens the vent door allowing air to escape as the trunk lid is closed.

"Smart materials like shape memory alloys offer new possibilities for many movable vehicle features," explained GM rep Jon Lauckner. "These new materials enable innovative designs and new and improved features at a lower cost than traditional motors and actuators."

GM says average vehicles have about 200 motorized movable parts that could potentially be replaced with such lightweight smart materials. With fuel efficiency a top concern for automakers, and with reduced weight being one way to achieve an improved fuel economy, the odds of the smart materials finding their way into additional vehicles in the future is quite high.

"The shape memory alloy used on the new Corvette represents nearly five years of research and development work on smart materials for which GM has earned 247 patents," said Paul Alexander, GM smart materials and structures researcher. "And it is just the beginning. We have many more smart material applications in the pipeline that will bring even more improvements to our vehicles going forward."