As the North American International Auto Show opens in Detroit, we are sure to see a common theme “efficiency.” For several years, automakers have used heavy steel to manufacture automobiles but those days are behind us and it is time to explore new options. Most manufacturers are cutting weight by substituting more composites, aluminum and magnesium, including materials once found only in high-end race cars.

The federal government is requiring auto makers produce vehicle fleets that average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, roughly double today’s standard. Europe has set limits on carbon-dioxide emissions that, in effect, impose similar fuel-economy targets. Shaving weight is one strategy auto makers will use to reach those goals.

The new Chevrolet Corvette that made its debut Sunday, Jan. 13, features an underbody made of aluminum and a hood and roof made of carbon-fiber composite, the same material used in Formula One race cars. Car companies say lightweight materials will give riders the same amount of protection as steel because new parts can be engineered with the same strength.

Members of the American Composites Manufacturers Association’s (ACMA) Automotive Composites Alliance (ACA) met with research and technology engineers at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich., on Friday, September 14, to discuss applications and implementation of composites materials into future automotive platforms. ACMA continues to reach out to the automotive industry as part of its Composites Growth Initiatives (CGI) program.

Today, many manufacturers are lightweighting anywhere they can. Due to the federal government’s mile targets, this is only the first move in the right direction. Automakers will have to continue to find ways to make vehicles more efficient.

[The Wall Street Journal]