A new approach is demonstrated for the topological design and optimization of structural components. The method seeks to generate a good starting point for a detailed design analysis, rather than produce a final design. The admissible design space is discretized with each element assigned a design variable which determines how it modifies the design topology. A genetic optimization algorithm is applied to turn each element either on or off. A penalty function is employed to handle design constraints such as stress and maximum displacement restrictions. A finite element solution algorithm provides all required stress and displacement information. The resulting optimization is an approximation to the optimum topology of the component. Examples are presented for the inner panel of an automotive decklid and for an automotive bumper beam.