Just as Americans continue to get fatter, so do our cars. According to the EPA, the average weight of a new vehicle in 2006 is a whopping 4,142 lbs - that's up a quarter-ton from ten years ago, and is the heaviest yet since the EPA began tracking the statistic in 1975. Not only does weight hurt fuel economy, but it also drags down performance. Adding additional horsepower is easy nowadays, but that of course hits economy a second time. The end result is that fuel economy improvements have stalled in the last decade, despite vastly improved engine technology.

This has prompted automakers to consider a variety of diet plans. The supplier of trim moldings for Buick's Lucerne managed to cut a whopping five pounds out of that vehicle's plastic and rubber trim, while the aluminum hood and deck of Chrysler's LX vehicles are said to shave 15-20 lbs. Such improvements seem minor, but when repeated several times throughout the vehicle, substantial gains can be had.

Of course, like any weight-loss program, it's much easier to put the weight on than it is to take it off, so the situation is unlikely to improve substantially until buyers accept a compromise in power, features, safety, size, or price. The likelihood of that, even at over $3/gallon, seems quite low at this time.

[Source: Autoweek/Automotive News]