Japan's automakers focus on weight loss, one ounce at a time

Automakers across the globe are in a frenzy to produce highly efficient, fuel saving vehicles that remain relatively inexpensive, yet still offering the modern conveniences and safety features consumers have grown to expect. While development on advanced drivetrains is going strong at almost every automaker, Japan's big four (Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda) realize that performance and efficiency gains aren't the exclusive purview of what's under the hood. The hood itself is part of equation.

Automotive News sat down with various heads of research and development at Japan's largest automakers and found that lighter cars are a top priority to increase fuel economy and reduce carbon emissions. The use of lightweight materials, the reduction of overall size and the development of new engineering and design methods are all contributing to Japan's dramatic weight loss solution.

Nissan has already announced plans to reduce vehicle weight by 15 percent by 2015. Mazda is aiming to cut 220 pounds from its vehicles beginning in 2011. Toyota is hoping to shed ten percent of its mid-size vehicle's weight by the mid-2010s and although Honda hasn't released a specific target for weight savings, the automaker considers it a top priority.

Toyota wants to reduce the Corolla's curb weight by 30 percent when the next generation sedan arrives in 2015 and its been reported that the new engine in the 2010 Prius, due out next year, will be 17 percent lighter and will use a battery pack that's half the weight of the current model.

All of Japan's automakers concede that reducing vehicle weight is a serious challenge. While steel prices have risen, they still don't warrant the extensive use of exotic materials like aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber. But the re-engineering of parts -- everything from body panels to A/C units -- is helping to achieve the goal, along with new manufacturing methods that are saving materials, cutting costs and increasing efficiency.

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