Make us your home page
Instagram

Cars shedding pounds to boost fuel economy

This undated photo provided by Ford Motor Co. shows a lightweight Fusion sedan that was unveiled Tuesday, June 3, 3014. The prototype is 800 pounds lighter than a regular Fusion thanks to more use of aluminum and other materials. (AP Photo/Ford Motor Co.) NYBZ152

This undated photo provided by Ford Motor Co. shows a lightweight Fusion sedan that was unveiled Tuesday, June 3, 3014. The prototype is 800 pounds lighter than a regular Fusion thanks to more use of aluminum and other materials. (AP Photo/Ford Motor Co.) NYBZ152

DEARBORN, Mich. — Roofs made of carbon fiber. Plastic windshields. Bumpers fashioned out of aluminum foam.

What sounds like a science experiment could be your next car. While hybrids and electrics may grab the headlines, the real frontier in fuel economy is the switch to lighter materials.

Automakers have been experimenting for decades with lightweighting, as the practice is known, but the effort is gaining urgency with the adoption of tougher gas mileage standards. To meet the government's goal of nearly doubling average fuel economy to 45 mpg by 2025, cars need to lose some serious pounds.

Lighter doesn't mean less safe. Cars with new materials are acing government crash tests. About 30 percent of new vehicles already have hoods made of aluminum, which can absorb the same amount of impact as steel.

Ford gave a glimpse of the future last week with a lightweight Fusion car. The prototype, developed with the U.S. Department of Energy, is about 800 pounds lighter than a typical Fusion thanks to dozens of changes in parts and materials.

The instrument panel consists of a carbon fiber and nylon composite instead of steel. The rear window is made from the same tough but thin plastic that covers your cellphone.

Because it's lighter, the prototype can use the same small engine as Ford's subcompact Fiesta, which gets an estimated 45 mpg on the highway.

But the car won't be in dealerships any time soon. For one thing, it's prohibitively expensive. Still, prototypes are helping Ford and other companies figure out the ideal mix of materials.

"These are the technologies that will creep into vehicles in the next three to five years," said Matt Zaluzec, Ford's technical leader for materials and manufacturing research.

Some vehicles have already made a lightweight leap. Land Rover's 2013 Range Rover dropped about 700 pounds with its all-aluminum body, while the new Acura MDX shed 275 pounds through increased use of high-strength steel, aluminum and magnesium.

Ford has unveiled an aluminum-body 2015 F-150 pickup, which shaves up to 700 pounds off the current version. The truck goes on sale later this year.

Cars shedding pounds to boost fuel economy 06/09/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2014 7:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Macy's chairman replaces ex-HSN head Grossman on National Retail Federation board

    Retail

    Terry Lundgren, chairman of Macy's Inc., will replace Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman as chair of the National Retail Federation, the organization announced Wednesday. Grossman stepped down from her position following her move from leading St. Petersburg-based HSN to Weight Watchers.

    Weight Watchers CEO and former HSN chief Mindy Grossman is being replaced as chair of the National Retail Federation. [HSN Inc.]
  2. Unexpected weak quarter at MarineMax slashes boating retailer shares nearly 25 percent

    Business

    CLEARWATER — Just then you thought it was safe to go back into the water, a boating business leader issued a small craft warning.

    Bill McGill Jr., CEO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's biggest recreational boat retailer. [Courtesy of MarineMax]
  3. CapTrust moving headquarters to downtown Park Tower

    Corporate

    TAMPA — CAPTRUST Advisors, a Raleigh, N.C.-based investment consulting firm, is moving its Tampa offices into Park Tower. CapTrust's new space will be 10,500 square feet — the entirety of the 18th floor of the downtown building, which is scheduled to undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation by 2018.

    CAPTRUST Advisors' Tampa location is moving into Park Tower. Pictured is the current CapTrust location at 102 W. Whiting St. | [Times file photo]
  4. Good news: Tampa Bay no longer a major foreclosure capital of the country

    Real Estate

    Once in the top five nationally for foreclosure filings, the Tampa Bay area no longer makes even the top 25.

    A few short years ago, Tampa Bay was a national hub for foreclosures. Not any more. [Getty Images/iStockphoto]
  5. Tampa-based start-up takes on Airbnb by promoting inclusion, diversity

    Tourism

    NEW TAMPA — Last May, Rohan Gilkes attempted to book a property in Idaho on the home-sharing platform Airbnb. After two failed attempts, the African-American entrepreneur asked a white friend to try, and she was "instantly" approved for the same property and dates.

    Rohan Gilkes poses for a portrait at his home and business headquarters in Tampa. 

Innclusive, a Tampa-based start-up, is a home-sharing platform that focuses on providing a positive traveling experience for minorities. Rohan Gilkes, the founder, said he created the organization after several negative experiences with Airbnb.
[CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]