It’s not a difficult formula: the lighter a car is, the less fuel it needs to consume. So why aren’t all of our cars lighter and more fuel-efficient? The answer is a little more complicated. These days, drivers want a host of safety, entertainment and comfort features that ultimately make cars heavier. Lighter weight cars are more fuel-efficient, but they are often perceived as unsafe—or uncomfortable. It’s a challenge for car makers to design cars that meet drivers’ expectations, adhere to rigid safety standards and decrease miles per gallon at the same. But with new fuel economy standards set at 54.5 mpg by 2025, they have to try. Making lighter cars is one of the most efficient ways to decrease miles per gallon.
Over the past couple of decades, drivers and car manufacturers become increasingly concerned with decreasing miles per gallon, but cars themselves have steadily become heavier. In fact, according to research from the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, the Honda Accord increased its weight by a dramatic 50 percent over a 20-year period. The same study found that if cars’ weight, torque and horsepower had stayed at their 1980 levels, fuel efficiency would have increased by close to 50 percent from 1980-2006. In reality, fuel efficiency increased by a mere 15 percent.
So, how can cars lose weight? Sometimes car manufacturers can shed extra pounds by removing individual features like ashtrays or CD players. In combination, enough of these seemingly insignificant changes can really add up. However, the most effective way to build a lighter-weight, fuel-efficient car is to use lighter construction materials in the first place.
Manufacturers are currently building cars that are lightweight yet strong, using lighter grades of steel and new construction materials like carbon fiber reinforced plastics. They are also employing lighter metals, such as aluminum, to supplement steel frames.
Steel has been the go-to construction material for cars from the beginning. It is strong, durable and relatively inexpensive. However, steel is also extremely heavy and can be a problem for safety for cutting tools to get through in the case of a severe accident. Many car companies are turning to lighter weight steel as a potential solution. Steel remains the main material for frame construction; however, it can be combined with lighter construction materials for an overall reduction in weight.
Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics
Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics (often referred to as CRP) weigh approximately 60 percent less than steel, and 30 percent less than aluminum. These rust-free plastic materials have carbon fibers embedded in them, giving them strength and durability. However, carbon fiber reinforced plastics are difficult to manufacture and therefore expensive. Many of the construction steps have to be performed by hand. BMW’s Model i3, which comes out in 2013, has a body made almost exclusively out of this material.
Aluminum is a lighter-weight metal that can work well with traditional steel frames. It is more expensive than steel, but it works in a multitude of applications: from trunks to wheels to engine blocks. Audi and Jaguar already have models that employ more aluminum than steel, and Ferrari insists that aluminum is a superior choice to carbon fiber reinforced plastics. It is cheaper, easier to produce in mass quantities, and easier to repair in the case of an accident. Aluminum is currently used to supplement steel frames, but over the next few years, we’ll start to see models that have mostly aluminum frames.
This guest post was written by AmeriQuest, a leader in green transportation. Whether you’re a business owner searching for a fleet of used cargo trailers, or if you’re in search of used commercial trucks for an independent contracting job, AmeriQuest will work to find a fleet financing option that makes sense for your budget.