The Skinny on Lightweighting
Chances are your next new car or truck will weigh less than the one you drive today, possibly a lot less. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 are compelling U.S. automakers to drop excess poundage from vehicles.
This "lightweighting" trend isn't new; automakers have been using high-strength steel, aluminum and plastic parts in place of heavier components for years. However, CAFE regulations have kicked the effort into overdrive. To meet fuel economy goals, industry experts predict that new vehicles a decade from now will be as much as 30 percent lighter than current models.
Some automakers are off to an early start. The Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ sedans switched to lightweight aluminum frame and body structures more than a decade ago. More recently, many automakers are adopting aluminum and carbon-fiber for selected body panels to save weight. Cadillac cut 55 pounds from its 2014 CTS by using doors made of aluminum rather than steel.
Collision repair technicians will need special training, dedicated work areas and different equipment to repair aluminum and other lightweight components. Whether this will affect repair costs and insurance rates remains to be seen, but some experts believe the difference will be minor since the portion of most insurance premiums devoted to collision repair is small.
Lighter vehicles will still be safe because they must meet the same standards as current models. Properly engineered modern materials are just as strong as older metals, and in many cases they are even better at absorbing collision impact energy. Lightweight cars and trucks are likely to cost a little more, but experts say the added expense will be more than recovered in fuel cost savings over the life of the vehicle. That's our kind of diet.