Automakers creating lighter, more fuel efficient cars

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Automakers are working harder to follow federal rules to make their vehicles more fuel efficient. (KABC)

The big news for the big Range Rover this year is its new optional diesel engine. The Td6 turbo-diesel has long been available in Europe and offers increased fuel economy over the base V6 gas engine.

The EPA rates this model at 25 mpg (city and highway combined), which is an improvement of 32 percent.

But the bigger news in efficiency isn't what's under the Range Rover's hood - it's the hood itself along with the rest of the body.

When it was redesigned a couple of years ago, Land Rover engineers went with aluminum, and brought it in 700 pounds lighter.

That amount of weight is equivalent to three college football players riding around in the back seat all the time.

Audi has now followed suit with its new Q7 SUV. The 2017 model is just a tad smaller outside than the previous one, though it actually has more interior space. It dropped about 700 pounds in its redesign, according to Audi. That weight difference can vary with options and engine choices, however.

It's not just SUVs that are going on a diet these days. Chevrolet's 2016 Camaro is significantly lighter than the previous model.

The top performance SS model with V8 power is over 200 pounds lighter than the previous one. The base model Camaro is more than 300 pounds lighter than the previous base model.

All these models have undergone what the auto industry calls "lightweighting," which means engineering vehicles to weigh less during a redesign.

Less weight generally makes a vehicle more efficient, but cars have gotten a lot heavier in recent years due to both mandated safety equipment and features buyers want.

Using the best-selling car in the country as an example, the Toyota Camry has picked up over 250 pounds in the past 20 years, even though it has only grown in size just a bit.

A 1996 Camry LE weighed 2,976 pounds, according to data kept by the automotive site The 2016 Camry LE is only 3.1 inches longer than the '96 but tips the scales at 3,240 pounds.

Engines have gotten a lot more fuel efficient overall, with great strides made in recent years thanks to things like direct fuel injection and sophisticated electronic management. With engine efficiency greatly improved already, weight reduction is an additional way to meet fuel economy goals.

Reduced weight in racing cars and sporty cars like the Camaro has always offered a performance advantage, but that kind of advantage can be applied to larger vehicles as well.

For example, Ford made big strides in weight savings with its redesigned F150 pickup truck, switching to aluminum for the body.

The extra advantage, in addition to fuel efficiency, is that the truck can carry and tow more than the F150 it replaced, since it has to move less of its own weight around.

Other pickup truck makers have been looking to do lighter designs in the future as well. Some are considering switching to aluminum construction as well.

Some car buyers may be concerned about safety when it comes to these weight-saving designs, but making a vehicle lighter does not make it less safe. All of these redesigned vehicles are at least as safe as the ones they replaced.
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