“Lightweighting” – auto engineering’s new focus for fuel economy gains

Cars and trucks are getting better fuel economy with every new model that’s launched.

World fuel economy regulations are driving auto manufacturers to eek out every mile per gallon, and it’s no secret that fuel economy rating is one of the main ‘features’ that influences a buyer’s decision to purchase a new vehicle.

I recently saw an interview with Carla Bailo, Senior VP, R & D, Nissan Americas, who said Nissan measures MPG to the second decimal point (0.01 mpg!)

Bailo also said that (the auto industry) has essentially achieved “85-90-percent” of the fuel efficiency gains possible through powertrains (including the use of CVT transmisions), and, of course, they will continue to make improvements in aerodynamics to increase fuel economy.

But the largest fuel economy gains in the next few years will be achieved through “lightweighting” – building lighter vehicles.  Over the next two automotive design cycles (a design cycle is 4-t0-5 years), auto manufacturers will have to reduce overall vehicle weight by 30-percent in order to meet the fuel economy targets that the United States and European Union have specified.

A 30-percent weight reduction is about one-thousand pounds in the average passenger car!

That’s a huge mountain to climb, but Nissan is showing their engineering can achieve significant weight reductions.  The all-new-for-2013 Nissan Altima is a good example, weighing in at a light 3130 lbs.  Now, imagine the Altima two generations from now in the 2021 model year.  If all goes according to plan, it should weigh a feathery 2200 lbs.  That will be an impressive accomplishment.

 

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