For Lightweight Cars, a Materials Race

by Jim Motavalli
New York Times
October 11, 2012

THANKS to tough new federal fuel-efficiency rules, automakers must meet a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. More efficient engines and electric powertrains can’t carry the whole load, so carmakers and the federal government are pouring resources into “lightweighting” auto platforms to meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards.

The Energy Department says that reducing a car’s weight by only 10 percent can improve fuel economy by 6 to 8 percent. Three technologies that show promise in lightening vehicles are high-strength steel, carbon fiber composites and aluminum. All of them are supported by $8 million in development awards that the department has doled out to the likes of General Motors, Ford and Caterpillar, as well as to two federal laboratories…

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