Message to all OEM’s: Add Lightness

10 Jan

One item with regard to modern automobiles that I’ve become more and more aware of recently is their weight. And how that weight has increased significantly over the last 15 years or so. Take a look at three vehicles, and their weight gain over the last 12-15 years:

Toyota Corolla

1998: 2450lbs

2012:  2800lbs

Honda Civic:

1998: 2350lbs

2012: 2650lbs

Ford Focus:

2000: 2550lbs

2012:  3000lbs

Weight-gain along these lines are not just limited to smaller cars. Take the Ford Mustang for example. The 2000 Ford Mustang GT tipped the scales at 3300lbs. Today’s Mustang GT weighs in at 3700lbs. If you think the 2012 Mustang GT with 5.0L V8 is a great performer at it stands now, imagine if the car weighed 400lbs less!

The fact that OEMs have been able to continually improve performance AND fuel economy while their vehicles have continued to gain weight is a testament to the talent of their engineers.

Now, much has been written as to WHY vehicles have gained weight. Some attribute the weight gain to increased safety requirements, especially for side-impact protection. Some attribute the weight gain to customers wanting cars that are “quieter”, thus the weight comes from sound deadening materials and other devices to deal with NVH goals (Noise, Vibration, Harshness). I guess OE’s think customers want that soft, cushy and quiet ride.  I think that is fine and dandy for your Lincoln Town Car or Buick crowd. Vehicles certainly have become larger, offering more interior room than previous generations of the same vehicle. Altogether, it adds up to 10-15% weight gain from 15 years go.

Most OE’s have developed B segment cars to slot in beneath vehicles that could very well have fit into that segment before the weight gain began occurring. The Ford Focus was the OE’s smallest car, but as the car increased in size and weight, Ford had to bring over the Fiesta.  Honda had to offer the Fit. Toyota the Yaris. Now Chevy is getting into the mix with the Sonic.

I’d like to see all of the manufacturers make a commitment to lowering the weight of each model of car they sell by at least 10% over the next 4-5 years (one design cycle). Mazda is one of the OE’s that has already committed to doing so via their SkyActiv efforts. The use of “high-strength” steel (lighter weight), more aluminum and composites is getting the job done.  However, it is more likely that we won’t begin seeing significant weight savings until two generations from now (8-10 years).

Here is an interesting study I found on the web:

http://aluminumintransportation.org/downloads/AluminumNow/Ricardo%20Study_with%20cover.pdf

With all other vehicle parameters remaining constant (engine size & power, coefficient of drag, transmission ratios, etc.), while seeing a 10% weight loss, fuel mileage would improve by between 3-4%.  Acceleration from 0-60 would improve by roughly 0.6-0.8 seconds.

OEM’s are going to have no choice but to begin reducing the weight of the vehicles they sell in order to meet the improved CAFE standards that are going into effect for 2016 MY vehicles.  Granted, as OE’s continue to develop and improve hybrid tech, weight reductions will become less of a factor. Take the forthcoming Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, that is estimated to achieve 100MPGe. This on a vehicle that will weigh more than 3300lbs.  However, to attain the required 50-60% fuel economy improvements between now and 2025, weight savings will be a necessary part of that formula.

As a gear head, of course I look forward to the improved performance of lighter-weight vehicles. Better acceleration, better braking, improved cornering ability, lower wear and tear on brakes and tires, etc.  Maybe this is a bit of wishful thinking…. as it assumes OE’s won’t completely neuter engine power in the process….  😉

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