It’s a basic principle of physics that if something weighs more, it needs more energy to move it. How this affects your fleet is mainly in its fuel economy (or lack thereof). Think about this:
For every 10% reduction in weight/mass, there’s about a 5% improvement in fuel economy.
With that correlation in mind, it’s fairly counter-intuitive to think about how fuel economy ratings have – for the most part – stayed consistent over the past couple of decades, while vehicles overall have actually gotten heavier. With all the additional modern features that
are now standard offerings and weighing vehicles down, engineers were able to maximize fuel efficiencies in other ways that have nothing to do with weight. But in today’s automotive market, and with aggressive Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)
goals set for manufacturers for 2025, the emphasis is on lightweighting as a way to gain fuel economy. Lightweighting the vehicles in your fleet is an important initiative to take on, but there are different ways to go about it.
Here are a few of the ways you can achieve lightweighting.
Lighten your own weight
Teach your drivers to remove any unnecessary cargo from their vehicles. This is an easy one. Are your drivers carrying around heavy equipment or tools that they aren’t using daily? Store them away until they need to be used.
Only get what you need
When choosing vehicles for your fleet, assess what the vehicles will be used for most of the time, and err on the side of a smaller engine and a lighter type of vehicle for better fuel efficiency. If you occasionally find that your crew needs something heavier duty for jobs, then short-term rentals are always a good option.
Straight from the manufacturer
Way back when, steel and chrome meant a safer car. This was also back when gasoline was relatively cheap and nobody was talking about carbon emissions or climate change. Today, some car manufacturers are starting to invest in the production of lightweight lines of vehicles. Right now, it’s mostly high-end luxury lines for performance reasons (think Lotus and Jaguar), but eventually as the practice becomes more widespread, this trend will cascade down to mainstream automakers for fuel efficiency reasons in order to comply with CAFE standards for 2025. By using carbon fiber, aluminum, or magnesium in the place of the more traditional steel car parts, these cars are lightweight from the get-go.
Potential downsides to lightweight manufacturing
There can be some downsides to using space-age materials to build cars, though. The cost of manufacturing with these materials is incredibly expensive on a large scale, which leads to fairly prohibitive costs to the end user when buying or repairing these vehicles. With any luck, once these manufacturing practices become more mainstream, there will be more suppliers and the costs can come down somewhat.
Also, the practicality and stability of lightweight vehicles is something to consider – a strong gust of wind on a major highway or bridge could be enough to cause a disaster for a car that weighs very little. Early research on the general accident or collision safety of these lighter cars has actually shown that lightweight cars don’t necessarily mean less safe cars. In fact, magnesium is stronger per volume than traditional steel, meaning that driver or passenger safety doesn’t have to be compromised. The real safety assessment of any lightweight vehicle can only be made after these vehicles have been in use for a number of years and after large amounts of accident data have been collected. We can only hope that with more research and development, automakers will find a good balance that offers the lightweighting benefits to both fuel economy and safety.
Who’s to say that potential policy changes in the near future might not reverse or weaken the most recently set CAFE standards, and we are buzzing about lightweighting by 2025 all for naught? Either way, it will always be better for your bottom line and for the environment to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.