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GM to Cut Vehicle Weight ‘Up to 15%’ by 2017

General Motors will save 12 billion gallons of fuel over the life of the vehicles it builds between 2011 and 2017 by reducing vehicle weight by up to 15 percent, along with other fuel efficiency improvements, GM CEO and chairman Dan Akerson said in a speech at the IHS CERAWeek 2013 energy conference in Houston.

The company has committed to achieving a 20 percent reduction per vehicle in global CO2 footprint by 2020, and has set a goal to have 125 landfill-free facilities by 2025, up from 104 today, Akerson said.

He also called on President Obama to immediately appoint a blue ribbon commission to develop a 30-year energy policy framework, and said the auto industry should play a major role in the discussion about the future of energy in the US. Light-duty vehicles account for about 60 percent of the country’s total transportation energy usage, Akerson said.

In his talk, Akerson highlighted several pieces of GM’s fuel economy plan through the 2016 model year. These include:

  • Reducing vehicle mass. He said, as a rule of thumb, a 10 percent reduction in curb weight will reduce fuel consumption by about 6.5 percent. GM’s target is to reduce weight by up to 15 percent. The new Cadillac ATS is lighter than a comparable BMW 3-Series, Akerson said.
  • Investing in advanced materials, including nano steels, carbon fiber and resistance spot welding for aluminum structures.
  • Deploying clean diesel engines, such as GM’s new B20-ready Chevrolet Cruze diesel.
  • Improving the thermodynamic efficiency of gasoline engines using technologies including turbocharging, direct injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation.
  • Vehicle electrification. GM expects to have about 500,000 vehicles on the road with some form of electrification by 2017. Akerson said this include all-electric cars like the Chevy Spark (pictured) as well as extended-range EVs like the Volt and Cadillac ELR. Additionally, the company’s light-electrification technology, eAssist, allows large cars like the Buick LaCrosse to achieve up to 36 mpg on the highway.

Akerson said these commitments will help improve energy security and represent a savings of about 675 million barrels of oil, which is roughly equivalent to US oil imports from the Persian Gulf in 2011.

The GM executive also called for increased use of natural gas as a motor fuel. He said a typical 5,000-vehicle light-duty fleet could save at least $10 million annually by switching to CNG, and a typical Class 8 operator could save $2,500 to $3,500 per month by switching to LNG. But there are only about 1,200 CNG stations nationwide, with half in just five states, and only about 66 LNG stations in 10 states.

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