The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced on August 28 that the fuel economy standard in model year 2025 will be 54.5 miles per gallon. The NHTSA predicts that by that year, the standard will save American consumers more than $1.7 trillion total dollars in gas spending, and reduce U.S. oil consumption by as much as 12 billion barrels. This new standard — called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard — has auto manufacturers tinkering around with more than just electric powertrains.
The New York Times published a report exploring how different materials could reduce a car’s overall weight and lead to increased fuel economy. The Energy Department puts a 10 percent decrease in weight at a 6 to 8 percent increase in fuel economy. Research into alternative materials like high-strength steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber composites are backed by $8 million in development awards. Ford (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), and Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) have all received money to investigate the issue.
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Ford recently showed off a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic hood for a Focus vehicle at the Composites Europe event in Germany. It weighs about 50 percent less than the standard steel version. Inga Wehmeyer, a research engineer at Ford European Research Centre, said that people “should not expect to see carbon fiber-bodied examples on sale in the near future.” The technology necessary to make the manufacturing process cost and time effective are still a ways off.
What is coming are cars like the 2013 Range Rover, which has an all-aluminum body, and is as much as 926 pounds lighter than its ancestors. BMW is also producing a battery-electric car called the i3, which uses carbon fiber, and looks like it comes from a science-fiction movie.