General Motors has announced they are testing a thermal-forming process for lightweight magnesium sheet metal. It could enable the automaker to make a variety of lightweight components.

General Motors has announced they are testing a thermal-forming process for lightweight magnesium sheet metal.

That doesn't sound terribly exciting, but it could lead to high-strength components that are lighter than aluminum.

While die-cast magnesium has been used in a variety of automotive components - most notably wheels - GM's newly developed method allows the material to be molded into precise, rigid shapes. In order to achieve this, the magnesium is heated up to 450 degrees Celsius (842 degrees Fahrenheit) and then molded into the desired part.

The company has already created a magnesium rear deck lid inner panel that has withstood 77,000 robotic slams and 250 kg (551 lb) impacts without any issues. It only weighs 1 kg (2.2 lb) less than a conventional steel panel, but using several magnesium components could result in significant weight savings.

According to Greg Warden, GM's executive director for global vehicle body engineering, "Every gram of weight reduction matters when it comes to improving fuel economy. Being able to replace heavier metals with one of the lightest will help us deliver better fuel economy to customers around the world while also still providing the safety and durability they expect."

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