College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

New research will prepare Ph.D. students for leadership positions in auto industry


A research project aimed at reducing the weight of an SUV while keeping costs down will provide Clemson University Ph.D. students with experience that will position them as leaders in the automotive industry.

The students will be designing and making a prototype of an SUV part that is interchangeably called a glider or body-in-white. The goal is to shave at least 160 pounds without raising the cost by more than $5 for each pound saved or requiring that automakers retool manufacturing plants and make major capital investments.

“It’s a really big challenge, and I think the first company that does that will have a tremendous advantage not only in IC-run cars but battery-powered electric cars as well,” said Ph.D. student Amit Deshpande.

Battery technology will eventually be similar across the industry, and the only way to increase range at that point will be to make vehicles lighter, said Sai Aditya Pradeep, who holds a Master of Science in materials science and engineering from Clemson and is on track to receive his automotive engineering Ph.D. in December.

Aditya Pradeep said that he liked the new project so much he decided to accept an offer to remain at Clemson after graduation, as a manufacturing engineer at the Clemson Composites Center.

“It so happened that I had two offers, including the one from Clemson,” he said. “I really wanted to stay on and work on this because I might not have another chance in the future.”

The students will be conducting most of their research in the world-class facilities at the Clemson Composites Center and the nearby Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research, both in Greenville.

Four Clemson students are assisting with the research. They are pursuing their doctorates in automotive and mechanical engineering under Srikanth Pilla, principal investigator, and Gang Li, co-investigator on the U.S. Department of Energy grant that is funding the bulk of the research.

“The students who have worked on real application projects within my team have been extremely successful,” Pilla said. “The students who conduct this new research will be well positioned for careers in OEMs. They may not design the whole glider, but the skillsets they develop around this project would definitely make them leaders going forward.”

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