Trucks, cars shed pounds for improved gas mileage to meet fed standards

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Automakers are lightening loads as they work to meet changing federal standards for gas mileage. (KABC)

One way to get better gas mileage is to lighten the load in your vehicle. And that's just what automakers are doing as they work to meet changing federal standards for gas mileage.

In the ultra-competitive full-size pickup truck segment, Ford plans to continue the F-series dominance with the upcoming 2015 version.

New styling, lots of useful new features and something else.

"The use of high-strength military grade aluminum alloy throughout the truck," said Ford spokesman Eric Peterson.

That's an industry first. The result is a weight savings of around 700 pounds. And that translates into improved fuel economy.

"It's the best-selling truck the last 37 years; best-selling vehicle for 32," said Peterson. "So for us it was the right vehicle to do it with because of the way a pickup truck customer thinks about their truck. They think about it in those capabilities. It made a lot of sense to do it this way, to give them that better fuel economy."

Building vehicles out of aluminum isn't new. Some of the high-end models from Jaguar and Audi have used it for years. But those are relatively low-volume cars. Ford sells pickups in the hundreds of thousands every year.

"People say that Ford's taking a tremendous risk by putting this much aluminum in it," said AutoPacific Analyst George Peterson. "But I think it's really what they're required to do for the future to meet the requirements that the government's laying down for them"

And look what Ford's engineers came up with on the passenger car side: an ultra-lightweight Fusion built in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy. It's 800 pounds lighter than a regular Fusion, a glimpse into the future.

Larger vehicles tend to be fuel-thirsty, obviously due to their weight. So when it comes to pickups and SUVs, putting them "on a diet" can really pay off, even if it only means a 2- or 3-mile-per-gallon improvement. That's significant"

Tightening federal fuel economy standards mean most every larger vehicle will be shedding weight. Some have already.

The latest Range Rover also uses aluminum, and it too lost about 700 pounds in its redesign while maintaining its size and adding features.

It's a similar story at Acura with their latest MDX crossover SUV. The 2014 model came in 275 lighter than the previous one. Aluminum, magnesium and high-strength steel are all used for the reduction in weight.

As every car company is now looking at saving pounds in its vehicles, the process of what's called "light-weighting" will be increasingly important in the coming years.

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