Pictured here is Ford's Lightweight Concept vehicle, a prototype that is nearly 25 percent lighter than an equivalent conventional vehicle. Using a mix of advanced materials, Ford -- in partnership with Magna International -- shaved about 800 pounds off the baseline vehicle, making a midsize sedan roughly the weight of a subcompact car. | Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company.

America is reinventing its auto industry, making vehicles that can go farther on a gallon of fuel and saving consumers money at the pump. Through investments in advanced vehicle technologies, the Energy Department is positioning the United States to lead in the global auto market instead of chasing to keep up. Follow along on Energy.gov during August as we highlight some of the automotive innovations that can be traced back to the Department -- from advanced combustion to lightweigting to clean diesel. 

This year at the Detroit Auto Show, Ford Motor Company made waves when it unveiled a new lightweight F-150, knocking nearly 700 pounds off the popular truck. Now the company is one step closer to developing an affordable, lightweight passenger car with its new Lightweight Concept vehicle -- a prototype that is nearly 25 percent lighter than an equivalent conventional vehicle thanks to the use of a mix of advanced materials.

The use of lightweight materials isn’t a new idea. For years, materials like aluminum and advanced high-strength steel -- twice as strong as traditional steel -- have been used in airplanes, racecars and even some luxury vehicles to cut fuel use without impacting performance or safety. While these materials can be found in key components of high-volume passenger vehicles, their high cost has made them too cost-prohibitive to use extensively. That is until recently.

As automakers look for ways to increase vehicle efficiency and lower emissions to meet new fuel economy standards -- all while maintaining a range of vehicle options -- more and more companies are exploring ways to incorporate strong, lightweight materials. And this could translate into big fuel savings for consumers. Reducing a vehicle’s weight by just 10 percent can improve fuel economy by 6 to 8 percent.

One example is the recent partnership between Ford and Magna International, a leading automotive supplier. With support from the Energy Department, the two companies teamed up to explore different weight-reduction options and how those options can work together to increase a vehicle’s gas mileage.

Using a 2013 Ford Fusion as the baseline, Magna and Ford focused on reducing the weight of the entire vehicle. Through the use of aluminum, advanced high-strength steel and magnesium -- a strong metal that is 33 percent lighter than aluminum -- they shaved off nearly 25 percent of the vehicle’s body weight. This in turn allowed them to incorporate a smaller, lighter engine that still provided the same performance.

Magna and Ford also cut additional weight by incorporating advanced materials into the vehicle -- such as chemically toughened glass similar to the type used in smartphones, carbon fiber (a strong, stiff, lightweight material that has the potential to replace steel) seats and other interior components, and lightweight suspension components like carbon fiber wheels. The result: A midsize sedan that is about 800 pounds lighter -- or roughly the weight of a subcompact car.

In the future, Ford and Magna will continue to refine the Lightweight Concept, testing it for safety and exploring how to scale up the production of lightweight components. While it’s unlikely that this exact car will ever be on the road, consumers could see some of these technologies in future vehicles as the companies integrate their findings into their manufacturing lines and products. 

For more on how the Energy Department is investing in lightweight materials for vehicles, check out the Vehicle Technologies Office’s website and learn about the Department's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program.

Rebecca Matulka
Served as a digital communications specialist for the Energy Department.Served as a digital communications specialist for the Energy Department.
more by this author