General Motors CEO Dan Akerson told attendees at the IHS CeraWeek conference in Houston this week that he is confident that his company is on track to meet aggressive fuel-economy requirements on schedule. In case you’ve forgotten, new CAFE rules agreed to by automakers and by California and other interested parties require fleet fuel economy to be 54.5 MPG by 2025. That’s just 11 model years from today. (It’s important to remember that 54.5 MPG for CAFE purposes is nowhere near that number in the real world; think more along the lines of about 35 MPG. Still a nice number, but not as eye-popping as 54.5 MPG).
Akerson said that GM will meet the targets through weight reductions – cutting an average of 15% from the weight of new vehicles as they launch with all-new platforms in the coming years, plus electrification, new engine technology, and a new all-electric vehicle.
GM’s cars have been among the heaviest in their class for years, so this news is a welcome change. We first saw GM’s weight-saving handiwork in the Cadillac ATS, which is on a new platform known as Alpha. The ATS is the lightest vehicle in its class, and that pays huge dividends dynamically and in terms of fuel-economy potential. My daily driver is a current generation CTS (2008 model year) which should, in theory, be the lightest, best-performing variant (RWD, 3.6 liter direct-injection V6), but the car cannot hide from its almost 4,000 pound weight, either in its fuel economy or its dynamics. Driving the ATS for a week (2.0T with the 6 speed manual) was a delight, except for the cramped back seat and small trunk.
A 2013 Malibu tips the scales at 3,393 pounds. Taking away 15 percent of that would mean that the next-generation car should weigh 2,884 pounds. That would be amazing. Plus, Akerson has said that safety and comfort will not be sacrificed. Presumably, with 15 percent less car to lug around, smaller engines can give equivalent performance more efficiently. GM engineers use a rule of thumb that says for every 15 percent reduction in a car’s weight, it should enjoy a 10 percent fuel economy improvement, all other things being equal.
Mr. Akerson is also optimistic about the future of EVs; the past and present have certainly not been particularly kind to them, so maybe the future will be brighter. He told attendees at the conference that a future GM electric car will boast a 100-mile EV range, and another variant will have a 200-mile range. Currently, GM’s Spark EV has an 80 mile published range, and comes equipped with standard “range anxiety.” (Guess what? A future lighter-weight EV will not need as much battery power to improve upon the range of current models. Boosting battery technology and drivetrain efficiency, along with the lighter weight promised by GM, will help them get to their 100- and 200-mile EV range objectives).
All of this sounds good to me. As long as GM can build safe, comfortable, and lightweight cars and trucks, I’ll be satisfied. The economy and dynamic improvements alone from a lighter car will be great.