Fuel-efficient vehicles packed with chemistry innovations steal the scene in Detroit

Fuel-efficient vehicles stole the scene at this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, signaling that chemistry-based innovations that improve automotive energy efficiency may power the industry for years to come.

Higher demand for fuel-efficient cars was evident in the more than 50 new models and concepts introduced during the January 14-15 press preview.

Notably, energy efficient innovations were no longer confined to small vehicles. Ford, for example, promoted its fuel-efficient pickup truck, the Atlas Concept, while Honda highlighted its new fuel-sipping SUV.

Another trend at this year’s show was the increased use of advanced aluminum alloys, which help with lightweighting, or reducing the vehicle’s weight, so that it can travel farther while using less fuel.

According to Randall Scheps, chairman of The Aluminum Association’s Transportation Group (ATG) and marketing director for Alcoa, Inc.:

Aluminum makes these vehicles lighter, stronger, durable and more fuel efficient, while delivering the highest safety and driving performance standard.

Believe it or not, the 2014 Chevy Corvette C7 showcased an aluminum and magnesium frame, which reduced the car’s weight by 100 pounds. So, what could that mean for fuel efficiency?

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) found that reducing the weight of a car by just 10 percent can improve fuel efficiency by 6-8 percent.

But it’s not all about lightweight metals; plastics are another growing component of energy-efficient vehicles.

According to ACC’s Chemistry and Light Vehicles report, each pound of plastics and plastic composites in a vehicle typically replaces 2-3 pounds of other, heavier materials, which helps to improve fuel efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

With the automotive industry’s major players promoting fuel-efficient vehicles, NAIAS attendees saw a glimpse of a future in which everyday cars AND trucks will travel farther than ever, using less energy.

Automotive innovations made possible by chemistry, meanwhile, are the vehicles that can help get us there.

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