The Big Three Team Up To Take The Weight Off

After drivers spurned downsized cars in the 1980s, Detroit turned its efforts to other ways of trimming weight to improve fuel economy. The next turn of that screw will come from lighter metals. On Aug. 5, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler launched a cooperative research program to promote the use of aluminum, magnesium, and metal-matrix composites.

Light metals currently account for less than 200 pounds of an average vehicle's weight, but that could triple, according to the U.S. Council for Automotive Research. USCAR will oversee the program as part of another effort that is already probing plastics and other alternatives to weighty metals. As if to underscore the new thrust, Ford Motor Co. has unveiled two concept cars that rely heavily on light metals. The Synthesis-2010 uses aluminum for every major component and stamping--and weighs in a half-ton lighter than a Mercury Sable. The second is an extensively "aluminized" Sable that trims weight by nearly 400 pounds.

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