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Is it time for automakers to get the fat out?

nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
I was reading an article this morning about a talk Amory Lovins, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a think-tank located in Snowmass, Colorado, recently made.

His main point was that higher oil prices and more price volatility are here to stay, and in the near future they will make the recent CAFE legislation totally irrelevant, as the consumer will demand fuel economy even higher than the 35 mpg average that legislation calls for.

However what caught my eye was a couple of paragraphs near the end of the article, that said:
"While automakers are investing large sums in exotic powertrains like fuel cells and electric plug-ins with lithium ion batteries, Lovins says automakers could make huge strides simply by making their vehicles lighter.

Moreover, such efforts to downsize do not require automakers to produce boring vehicles. Lovins approvingly noted Tesla's successful effort to eliminate unnecessary weight from its roadster, a vehicle with a top speed of 125 miles per hour.

Weight is the key, Lovins said. He quoted Henry Ford on the subject: "Weight may be desirable in a steam roller but nowhere else… Whenever anyone suggests to me that I might increase weight or add a part, I look into decreasing weight and eliminating a part!"

I applauded heartily, as this is just what I have been thinking for a long time now. The American fleet is SERIOUSLY overweight, even given Americans' preference for larger vehicles. How could many of our midsize sedans weigh two tons or more?

If you look at the highest-EPA-rated "normal" gas car on the market today, the Yaris (I am excluding Tesla at $100K+, Lotus in its $50K+ niche, and the ForTwo because it has only two seats), you see that it is also the lightest, at around 2300 pounds. In its class, the next heaviest, the Fit, is about 5% heavier and gets about 5-7% worse fuel economy. The Accent weighs more than the Yaris and has reduced fuel economy also, similar to the Fit. And on it goes. Indeed, the same exercise can be played out across the car classes.

Do the Lambda crossovers have to weigh almost 5000 pounds? Do Auras and Avalons have to weigh most of two tons? And most compact cars more than 3000 pounds?

When I have broached this subject in the past, most of the posters here seem to have had the general response that yes, they do. So I was rather gratified to see that at least one person in the automotive design field didn't.

And it has not gone unnoticed by me that a number of automakers in the last few months, as gas prices shot up and up, have released notices to the press talking about how they were making weight reduction at every redesign a priority from now on. They too know that a lot of gas is wasted hauling around those needless extra pounds. Not to mention it naturally improves handling and reduces the need for expensive chassis improvements and huge rolling stock just to get decent handling out of the pigs we see for sale today.

Call it the purist POV, I dunno, but isn't it time we insisted on cars with reasonable weights again?

Link to the article on Amory Lovins: - - sect=emaildetroit01

2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)



  • steverstever Posts: 52,571
    I heard Lovins speak ~20 years ago. He's been pushing conservation a long time. He convinced me buy a lot of caulk and insulation back then, and probably saved me hundreds of dollars.

    Here's a tie-in:

    "According to Forbes Autos, the average weight of "light-duty" vehicles rose from 3,221 pounds in 1997 to 4,144 pounds in 2007. Ironically, part of that weight gain comes from safety equipment that has been added over the past 10 years, some of which was federally mandated."

    In the Trade-Off Between Weight and Fuel Economy, Safety Tech Tips the Scale
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    The ironic thing about that article is it purports to be about how downsizing from an SUV is safe and a good idea, yet the vehicles it proposes to downsize into are some of the worst offenders on the "get the fat out" list. The X3, two full tons of weight and barely room to seat four? Please!

    What is discouraging is that in this article they consider anything below 4000 pounds to be low weight. :sick:

    And while they seem to be trying imply that most of the 900 pounds of weight gain in the last ten years has been the result of adding safety gear, in reality the newly standard safety gizmos are a tiny FRACTION of that weight gain.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • steverstever Posts: 52,571
    The ironic thing about that article

    Well, that's Forbes for you. :P

    I didn't go to the source pages, but I bet Forbes has them spread out one by one so they can sell more ad pages.

    My old '82 Tercel 4 door sedan came in around 1950 pounds, and it felt pretty peppy for 62 hp.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 18,653
    "Low Mass is it's own reward."

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • fintailfintail Posts: 41,913
    My 02 E55 is something like 300 lbs lighter than a W211 E55 and maybe 500 lbs lighter than a E63. Of course those newer cars have a lot more power, but still, that's a bit of weight.

    Funny thing is, my E55 weighs about the same as my old 1989 S-class!
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    And many years later the Malaysian company bearing the Lotus name still takes his motto to heart! Vigorously!

    But I'm not just talking about sports cars here, I'm talking about the everyday dull-as-bathwater sedans that fill the garages of most of suburban America. These cars have hundreds of extra pounds of steel stuffed into them to make them as taut as a drum for ten laps of the Streets of Willow, when in reality they just schlep back and forth to work and the grocery store day after day after day, most of the time sitting in altogether too much traffic along the way....and of course they are often better equipped than the family entertainment room is at home with A/V equipment, and jam-packed with gadgetry many owners never use, and some don't even know HOW to use, or even that said gadgets are THERE.

    All of that is weight, needless weight. Which means ever more power is needed, ever more gas is wasted. I wonder if any of these automakers will heed Lovins' words in any serious way...
    Which mainstream manufacturer was it that just announced every model redesign would target weight reduction from the existing model? I am tempted to say GM, but my memory isn't working properly. And I believe a couple of the luxury carmakers have said the same - Jaguar was one, I think? And maybe Audi too?

    But I wonder if it will amount to anything real, or if it will be just a lot of talk.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • oldfarmer50oldfarmer50 Posts: 10,209
    Cars are too heavy. My son's old 88' Plymouth K car weighed 2400 pounds and was about the same size as my 2008 Eclipse which weighs almost 3400 pounds.

    Of course the new car has 3Xs the horsepower and would do a lot better in a crash but 1000 pounds? That's a lot of beef.

    The trade off is cost of course. To use more lightweight metals and composites will bring the weight down but the cost way up. Most folks faced with the choice of paying $5000 more for a car or $1000 per year more for gas will choose the heaver car.

    2015 Mustang GT, 2009 PT Cruiser, 2004 Chevy Van

  • mattandimattandi Posts: 588
    I mentioned in another thread that many/most cars have suffered from bloat recently. Not only just increased weight, but also increased physical size (note the Accord for example). I also predicted we would see an end to this trend. We'll see.

    Something I wonder. I've heard before the reasoning that some, maybe most, of the increased weight is due to added safety equipment and features. I'm no engineer. Does anyone know or have numbers on how much of the increased weight is attributable to this? Even average, ballpark type numbers for the typical car?

    There is a flip side relevant to this discussion. I have heard some express concern about smaller, lighter cars regarding safety so long as there are still larger, heavier vehicles sharing the road. I'm not sure how widespread this concern is, but I wonder how much validity there is to this concern (I think the concern is valid BTW). Is this concern reality based or perception based? I don't think anyone conducts safety tests by slamming a Tahoe into a Yaris. Maybe someone does and I am just unaware.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    of how much weight cars have put on over the years. The current Crown Vic, which has been standing at death's door for years now, but just never bothered to knock, dates back to 1979. The current model probably weighs about 4200 lb. The 1979 model probably weighed about 3700 lb, in base form. The 1979 had a standard V-8, the 302, but that was a lightweight engine. I imagine the 4.6 OHC is heavier. The 1979 also had a 3-speed automatic compared to a 4-speed, so I dunno how much weight that would add. And a/c was still an option back in 1979. Once upon a time, putting a/c in a car could easily add 150 pounds or more, but by that time it might not have.

    So oddly enough, a Crown Vic might be considered a good example of a car that HASN'T porked up all that much over the ages! Especially when you consider the safety and convenience equipment that's been added, the bigger engine (the 4.6 takes up more space than the old 460 bigblock, so I'm sure it's heavier than a 302!), bigger wheels and tires (a '79 had 14"), etc.

    From 1979 to 2008, its weight has only gone up about 13%, if my guesses of 3700 and 4200 lb are correct. I wonder how that would compare to other size classes of car over the years? You really can't compare a 2008 Accord, for example, to a 1979, because one's a midsize and the other's a subcompact. If anything, you'd compare a 2008 Accord to a 1979 Malibu, Granada, Aspen/Volare, etc....similar-sized cars that started around 3000-3200 lb.
  • michaellnomichaellno Posts: 4,300
    I've mentioned this before in other forums, but the weight of the 1993 Honda Accord DX that I had in the mid 90's is approximately the same weight of the 2003 Ford Focus ZX5 I had a few years ago (approx. 2800 pounds). Both had the same HP (130), but most people would look at the Accord as a mid-sized vehicle and the Focus as a compact.

    I think fin is right that the weight gain can be attributed to a couple of different factors:

    1) federally mandated safety equipment (side door beams, air bags, etc.)

    2) a desire to make the cars more 'solid' in feel - the doors closing with a 'thunk' and the inevitable reduction in the twisting that happens in the chassis

    While I'm not happy that my wife's '08 VUE (V6, AWD) weighs about 600 pounds more than the '04 VUE (V6, AWD) we traded in for it, it is absolutely more noticeable in how it feels and drives.

    Another example is the Scion xB - gen 1 came in at 2200 pounds, gen 2 at almost 2800 pounds - a more than 25% increase in weight!

    Will this trend reverse? I sure hope so. I really don't want my next car to weigh more than 3500 pounds - even the 128i that currently occupies the top of my 'wish' list weighs about the same as my current Saturn L300 - 3200 pounds. This for a car with 2 fewer doors and way less space for passengers and cargo.
  • oldfarmer50oldfarmer50 Posts: 10,209
    "...The 1979 had a standard V-8, but that was a lightweight engine. I imagine the 4.6 OHC is heavier..."

    Are you sure? The 302 was a cast-iron block while the 4.6 has an aluminium block. I know that the difference in cast-iron vs. aluminium in my car is 75 pounds.

    I get your point though. Maybe a better comparison would be between 302 equipped cars of different years.

    2015 Mustang GT, 2009 PT Cruiser, 2004 Chevy Van

  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    One important reason for the weight gain that must be added to the list: all cars are designed to go much faster now than they did in 1980 or 1990. And cars that can go much faster must have chassis and powertrains that can handle and deliver the speed.

    I submit that the family midsize sedan or midsize crossover does not NEED to be able to get to 60 mph in 7 seconds, or even 8 or 9. It does not NEED to be able to go 130 mph. Neither does the family commute car, which will be stuck in traffic 80% of the time in middle class America.

    Neither one needs to be a rolling living room of driver distractions weighing hundreds of pounds either.

    The 128i is a sick little example of this trend, being BMW's new smallest model yet still weighing over 3000 pounds. And the xB you mentioned, well, that has to be the worst single example of this type of bloat we could post here from weight increases this model year anyway. While the xB is still under 3000 pounds, a commendable accomplishment in the age of pork, it still manages to get WORSE fuel economy than the Camry with which it shares its engine. Just imagine if it used the Corolla 1.8 and weighed 400 pounds less instead.

    I have made myself a new goal, but I'm not sure if I can make it stick: I will not buy another new vehicle over 3000 pounds. 2500 pounds will be the target weight for now. Since I never buy vehicles bigger than compact cars or crossovers, this goal is not totally delusional (!!), but my choices are still very limited. One of the cars I keep near the top of my wish list, the Subaru Impreza, is permanently out of contention if I stick to this goal. And it's a compact car! :-(

    Just. Too. Heavy.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • bumpybumpy Posts: 4,435
    I will not buy another new vehicle over 3000 pounds. 2500 pounds will be the target weight for now.

    Welcome to the club. My own personal limits are 2500 pounds for FWD and 2900 for RWD, with 150 pounds allowance for diesel and another 150 pounds for AWD.
  • stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 4,098
    "I have made myself a new goal, but I'm not sure if I can make it stick: I will not buy another new vehicle over 3000 pounds. "

    Well, you are in luck, the Prius is 2920 lbs. However the new one will be larger and presumably heavier...
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    Not to mention, driving a Prius is like riding the monorail, little to no fun, little to no driver involvement period if it comes to that.

    My other rule, longer-standing than the new one regarding weight, is that it must offer a stick shift.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    while the cars may be designed to go faster these days, they're not designed to carry quite the load that they used to. Consider this: my buddy's '04 Crown Vic has a GVWR of about 5600 lb, yet weighs about 4200. A spread of 1400 lb. And that's probably about the most you're going to get out of a modern car. I think the spread on my Intrepid is only about 900 lb, and even a Hemi Charger or 300C is about the same.

    In contrast, the GVWR of my '76 LeMans is 5622 lb. My old car book lists the weight of a '76 Grand LeMans coupe at 3834 lb, but as equipped (a/c, power windows, locks, seat, etc) I guess it's conceivable that it weighs 4,000. So there's a spread of 1600 lb.

    I think the GVWR of a 70's Dart slant six, which only weighs about 3200 lb, is still around 4800 lb. So you had cheap compacts back in the 70's that could carry heavier passengers and trunk loads than some of the biggest cars today!

    Of course part of the reason for that is back then, a car was more of a jack-of-all trades. Most of them had to be able to carry 6 passengers plus their cargo, and many of them were used to haul trailers. Today we have pickups, SUVs, and minivans for all that.

    I wonder though, if part of the reduction in load capacity might be because of the lower-profile tires and bigger rims they use these days?
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    "But the new Fiesta bucks that trend with a reduction of 110 pounds compared with the former model. This helps fuel consumption, exhaust emissions and performance."

    Darn right it does! :-)

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    As long as they didn't just use some little sleight-of hand move, such as making some equipment that had been standard optional. Or cutting the weight in an area that might compromise safety.

    I'd be really curious to know, exactly, what areas they were able to cut weight in and how they were able to do it? That kind of stuff fascinates me.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    I think one of the big ways they accomplish weight reduction is to substitute high-strength steel in more areas in the new model. They can also sub in plastic in place of metal, aluminum in place of steel in the undercarriage, etc.

    They can also make the car physically smaller, something we are just seeing the beginnings of in the industry, although not in the case of this Fiesta.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • mattandimattandi Posts: 588
    European small cars have grown significantly in recent years to the point where they may well be able to accommodate beefy Americans.

    Sad social commentary.

    We're fatter so our cars must be as well. :sick:
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    Apparently a bunch of people in Switzerland think the same way I do, although they are as concerned about public safety as they are about emissions and fuel economy:

    Swiss to vote on SUV ban

    Swiss campaigners launched a bid on Monday to ban gas-guzzling SUVs and luxury sports cars, winning enough support for a referendum.

    The Young Green party said on Monday in a statement, it had turned in 120,000 verified signatures gathered in support of a referendum, to be held within 18 months.

    "Our initiative slows global warming, protects cyclists, pedestrians and children, stops the arms race on the streets..., reduces pollution and is still reasonable," the initiators said on their Web site.

    Furthermore, new cars should weigh less than 2.2 tons and have a safer front in order to protect pedestrians.

    I would advocate a 2-ton limit for vans and SUVs, 1.5 tons for passenger sedans. So the Swiss aren't quite as strict as I want to be. ;-)

    And I would rather that consumers demand this of automakers than that regulators get involved.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • oldfarmer50oldfarmer50 Posts: 10,209
    "...Swiss to vote on SUV ban..."

    I suspect that has more to do with a Euro-Commie anti-American at all costs attitude than anything else. :mad:

    2015 Mustang GT, 2009 PT Cruiser, 2004 Chevy Van

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    Sorta makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it. Nobody would ever pull that kind of crap here. :sick:
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    There wasn't one word in there about anti-American ANYTHING. Remember they are the Swiss, officially the country of neutrality. ;-)

    They are just worried because over-heavy and overly high vehicles are a danger to everyone - bikers, pedestrians, you name it.

    Over-heavy vehicles also happen to handle poorly and waste gas.......which is bad in an era of $4 gas.......

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • stevedebistevedebi LAPosts: 4,098
    "It may even turn out that the battery and hybrid components are the most reliable parts of the vehicle needing no replacement for any normal lifetime."

    Oh, I don't know. The Germans and English also make large SUVs.
  • kernickkernick Posts: 4,072
    While I generally agree with your sentiments that vehicles should be kept smaller and lighter, I don't necessarily agree with your comments on larger vehicles being inherently less safe. If the heavier vehicles are engineered properly they can be as safe to others as smaller vehicles. Whether a bicyclist is hit by an Explorer, a VW Beetle, or a Honda motorcycle travelling 40mph, the bicyclist is going to be in a world of hurt.

    And as far as wasting gas goes, waste is a very subjective term. What is waste to someone, is use and need to someone else. If your definition of waste is to move a person using the least amount of fossil-fuel energy from Pt A to Pt B, then we shouldn't even consider a motorized vehicle. An older Honda CRX HF could be considered wasteful if that's the goal. We all decide what is reasonable mpg, or what temperature it is reasonable to heat or AC our house to ...
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    No, absolutely there is a need for larger vehicles. There is no need for minivans (and vehicles that substitute for them like the Enclave/Outlook/Traverse) to weigh almost 5000 pounds though. There is no need for what are essentially 4-passenger sedans to weigh 3500, 3700 pounds.

    The weight creep in the last 20 years fleetwide is absurd. People are looking for the magic powertrain pill that is suddenly going to save them lots of fuel now that gas prices are high, but there are lots of aspects of the modern cars sold in North America that contribute to the amount of gas they use, and weight is a significant and problematic one. My feeling is that problem is also a needless one.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    nippononly: There is no need for minivans (and vehicles that substitute for them like the Enclave/Outlook/Traverse) to weigh almost 5000 pounds though. There is no need for what are essentially 4-passenger sedans to weigh 3500, 3700 pounds.

    When you consider safety equipment, the demand for stronger structures, features and conveniences demanded by customers, and customer demand for improved control of noise, vibration and harshness (or what we refer to as "refinement"), it's easy to see why vehicles weigh more.

    Maybe some people only drive their vehicles around town, and aren't concerned about noise control, and don't need to cruise silently and comfortably at 75-90 mph, but lots of us do. Perhaps there should be more "city cars" that are will be used in urban areas, but that won't work for most of us, who aren't about to buy a car just for use in one area.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    I think Honda has actually done a pretty good job at keeping a lot of their weights down. For instance, here are some specs, taken from Edmunds, of various years...

    1993 Accord LX sedan: 2866 lb
    1997 Accord LX sedan: 2899 lb
    2002 Accord LX sedan: 3031 lb
    2007 Accord LX sedan: 3197 lb
    2008 Accord LX sedan: 3289 lb

    I picked the automatic transmission model, where it gave you a choice to pick. For 1993 and 1997 it didn't though, so I'm presuming those weights are for the stick shift, so this may not be a totally fair comparison.

    None of those have really been huge weight jumps IMO. The biggest jump is from '02-07, at 166 lb. Interestingly, the '03-07 generation is also the first Accord that I'd consider a comfortable midsized car. The '98-02, while a nice car, just felt too small for my tastes.

    So basically, from the 1990-93 generation, to the 2008+ generation, we've seen weight go up about 15%. We also have a car that fills a totally different market today. Years ago it was a compact, and today it's a midsize (the EPA actually classifies it as full-size if you don't get the sunroof!) It's about 9-10" longer, about 5-6" wider, much roomier inside (although oddly, published trunk volume is no larger).

    The 2008 also gets better fuel economy. The 1993 4-cyl/automatic is rated at 19/26, using those new, downrated numbers. The 2008 4-cyl/automatic is rated at 21/31. I'm sure some of that improvement, especially on the highway, is due to one extra gear in the transmission, but even if it weren't for that I'm sure it would still be improved.

    I'm sure that if they stripped some weight off the Accord, it might improve fuel economy a bit. But at what ultimate cost? I mean, you couldn't just jettison 15% of that car's weight and automatically pick up 15% improved fuel economy. And you'd probably lose a lot of the car's rigidity, safety, silence, and comfort.

    One car from 1993 that I can think of that's about the same size as a 2008 Accord is, believe it or not, a Buick LeSabre, Olds 88, or Pontiac Bonneville. They were a bit bigger inside and in trunk volume, but the 2008 Accord has about the same external dimensions. But in this case, the Accord is actually LIGHTER than the similar sized car from 1993! Those GM cars were about 3500 lb I think. And still, more fuel efficient. The 3.8 is rated 17/26 in those cars, using the newer, downrated numbers.

    I don't think we're really going to see cars lose a lot of weight unless we want to go back to the way things were in the late 70's, when they started rolling sheetmetal thinner, using under-sized transmissions, and eliminating little details like roll-down rear door windows. And then they downsized the engines at the same time they were shaving the weight off the cars, so in many cases, performance still sucked!
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    many of the big car companies have now publicly committed to reducing the weight of their vehicles, and they seem pretty serious that they will be able to accomplish that.

    I was reading a very encouraging article yesterday that cited Toyota, Nissan, and GM among the automakers that saw a need for weight reduction, and were making it a priority from now on. So maybe the question I posed already has an answer from the manufacturers themselves!

    As for all the considerations grbeck mentioned, you have to remember that any car design is merely a balance of many factors, the most important of which is usually cost. One of the things I am hoping the industry will now explore is whether a few hundred dollars extra per unit in costs will translate to notable weight reductions accomplished by the use of better materials.

    I would imagine the move away from larger engines towards smaller ones, and the same trend in transmissions (especially automatics), could also contribute to weight reductions. We have just barely seen the start of these trends in the last few years (lots more turbos on the market, smaller engine displacements with more specific power output, automatics gaining numbers of gears even as they get physically smaller and lighter) - my hope is that they could now accelerate.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

This discussion has been closed.