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Auto industry survey finds need for materials innovation to meet 2025 CAFE; greatest change seen in powertrain systems

49% of respondents thought that powertrains would see the greatest percentage of material changes as a result of proposed 2025 CAFE standards. Click to enlarge.

The auto industry’s current materials portfolio will need to be augmented to meet new 2025 fuel economy standards, according to a WardsAuto and DuPont Automotive survey conducted in late July.

Only 5% of the vehicle design and engineers polled said they are “very confident” that currently available materials will help them meet proposed CAFE standards. Nearly half the respondents say the greatest change in materials will be in powertrain systems, noting that advanced propulsion systems—from downsized engines to hybrid and electric vehicle systems and batteries—will drive new material requirements.

Respondents identified the need for higher strength, lighter metals including aluminum, magnesium; more cost-effective advanced composites for structural components that can significantly reduce weight and high-heat resistant, lightweight materials to withstand higher combustion pressures and temperatures.

77% agreed that the proposed CAFE standard would “fundamentally change how vehicles are manufactured in the US”, with 52% agreeing that the proposed target would require most vehicles to use hybrid-electric or electric powertrains. Only 24% agreed that the 2025 CAFE target could be reached used currently available technologies, and only 25% agreed that the CAFE target would not jeopardize the safety of future vehicles.

Only 8% agreed that environmental groups fully understand the technologies and engineering tradeoffs required to meet CAFE targets of 50 mpg or higher, with the same percentage agreeing that environmental groups lobbying for higher CAFE consider current and future National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety rules when they evaluate the cost and achievability of future fuel economy targets.

Eight in ten respondents indicated that cost was one of their top two criteria when deciding whether to adopt a new technology that impacts production and manufacturing. The next highest response was 42% for consumer acceptance.

While 44% of the respondents indicated that the government has the greatest amount of influence on powertrain policy, the same percentage indicated that it should be consumers who have the greatest amount of influence.

More than 1,000 subscribers to WardsAuto responded to the survey designed to identify challenges and trade-offs associated with meeting 2025 CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards. Results of the survey, commissioned by DuPont and performed by Paramount Research, Coralville, Iowa, were released during the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminar this week in Traverse City, Michigan.

The WardsAuto, DuPont survey was conducted just before the Obama administration’s originally proposed 2025 fleet average of 56.2 mpg (4.1 L/100 km) was negotiated to 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km).

Clearly CAFE regulations have confronted the industry, but they’ve also driven focus around technology needs, material demands and cost issues. While the CAFE standard is a little lower than proposed, it’s significantly higher than where we are today. Advanced materials, alternative propulsion systems and new technologies must be developed quickly and cost effectively.

This is a defining moment—not just for materials, but for the industry. And it’s one that breaks the silos of the value chain and is inclusive of the global marketplace.

—David Glasscock, DuPont global automotive technology director

In addition to materials challenges, the WardsAuto and DuPont survey explores how new CAFE standards will impact vehicle manufacturing and offers a ranking of the top challenges consuming industry resources.



This quote, of itself, speaks to our current inability to push and incorporate technology to solve environmental and energy problems as fast as systems are available...

"... Only 8% agreed that environmental groups fully understand the technologies and engineering tradeoffs required to meet CAFE targets of 50 mpg or higher..."
- substitute CAFE for any enviro/energy issue.

..kind of a NIMCE-ism --> Not In My Country's Environment.


The 2025 proposed CAFE standards could be met by 2020 with the introduction of well known technologies to lower total weight, lower wind and rolling resistance and a good mix of improved ICE, transmissions, ancillaries, PHEVs and BEVs.

Too bad that it has to be forced on the manufacturers. They should have taken to lead years ago. Two hundred million + Toyota Prius III (or equivalent) would have done it already.


"...and only 25% agreed that the CAFE target would not jeopardize the safety of future vehicles"

So 75% of the respondents are overlooking the current state and development direction of crash avoidance technologies. By the time these CAFE standards are in place the ability of a vehicle to mitigate and avoid accidents is likely to make low speed accidents non-existent and high speed accidents unlikely to result in death.


If the American auto industry’s unable to meet this challenge we'll simple buy cars from other countries which can.

Chad Snyder

while i partially i agree with you patrick, i think you're underestimating the potential costs of these new crash avoidance technologies.

more worrisome, you're also underestimating the perception of consumers. just because you tell them that new software will make a small light car safe doesn't mean they'll believe you and rush to buy such vehicles.

and, harvey, at what cost?

sure we can do those things, but consumers don't want to pay extra upfront for these technologies. the data on that is crystal clear. will forcing them to do so lead to sustainable sales?

if consumers decide to hold onto old vehicles longer and push the annual sale's rate back towards 10 million sales per year, you put the auto industry in a tough economic spot, especially when they'll be dealing with thinner margins already.


@ Chad, which is precisely why we have to pull out all the stops in terms of government R&D support.

I cannot see how we get to this target without either cutting 30% off the weight of the average vehicle, or having 25% of the fleet be full-on electric.

Either change in 14 years is beyond the capability of any individual auto manufacturer.

Roger Pham

54-mpg-car too expensive to make?
As early as 2005, the Prius II is already capable of 55 mpg, 5-passenger seating, and a normal trunk space, that can be bought at ~$24,000 (mine in 2007) with practical options offered at a typical dealer, including automatic entry, automatic climate system, satellite radio, camera backup display, etc. When substracting these high-end options, this 55-mpg vehicle is cost competitive with a non-hybrid vehicle.

We already have the technology for a 54-mpg car TODAY, at an affordable prices! The recent high-strenght steel can shave hundreds of pounds off the overall weight. Lithium battery instead of the NiMh in the Prius will provide for even more weight saving and more trunk space.

Every year, the Prius will save me almost $1000 off the fuel price. In ten years, the car will save ~$10,000 in fuel cost alone, plus more $$$ in reduced maintenance cost, including almost no brake service nor transmission service nor AC service, etc. The battery is likely to last for the useful life of the car.

I'm waiting for the soon-to-come Ford Cmax hybrid to be released next year, promised to have mpg in the 50's range (better than 41 mpg of the Fusion hybrid). This Cmax hybrid is made in the USA, including the lithium battery which will be developed and made in-house to reduce cost.

Even though consumers may pay the most a few thousand dollars more for a 50-mpg-class HEV (or not at all!!!), the cost saving over the life of the car will be many times the purchasing cost differential, at current fuel prices. The higher reliability and lower maintenance of a HEV is PRICELESS!


Looks like the auto makers are about ready to start looking for something I offered to give them for free nearly ten years ago.

Wonder if the new crop of automotive engineers have a bit more imagination than the old fogeys.


Hi Chad,

I am expecting the proliferation of the equipment to bring the price down vastly over the coming years. Starts with luxury vehicles and propogates downwards with cost efficiencies from mass production of sensors and components. At some point, the government is likely to make some of the crash mitigation technologies mandatory (see Seatbelts, Airbags, Electronic Stability Control, Tire pressure monitoring systems).

-Volvo XC60 already is equipped with low speed crash mitigation / avoidance equipment.
-Audi and a couple Japanese automakers have vehicles which will stay in their lane without driver input.
-Adaptive cruise control is available on nearly any luxury vehicle on the market today
-Blindspot sensors are available on many vehicles (luxury and otherwise)
-Many vehicles have "self parking" modes (even the compact Ford Focus)


If you take a 40-MPG hybrid car and run 30% of its miles on electricity, the effective fuel economy leaps to 57 MPG. It isn't hard to make a 40 MPG vehicle, even a minivan. A little electrification will put almost everything over the bar.


And yet in Europe such cars are already available.


The most telling thing is that the 2025 US standards were negotiated with the world's big 6 auto companies. That means either, A)there are some serious freaking loopholes, or B)they know they can do a lot better so are not too worried.

BTW, these are average standards. SUV's will be in the high 40's and the passenger car fleet will be in the mid 60's mpg.

That's all doable with judicious use of currently available technology.

The cars will get lighter with high-strength steel which should be just as safe and pretty affordable.


The car companies "signed on" with lots of private arm-twisting. Although some cars like the C-segment Volt, and the Prius can achieve these kinds of mileages, not all vehicles or even fleets of them can do so. Try hauling 22,000 pounds of materials with a Prius like a Dodge pickup can. It just can't be done. Nor can it carry 7 or 8 passengers and their luggage, like a Suburban can.

The new Ford Focus is supposed to already have 80% HSS and the Gullietta which will be the basis of all C & D-segment Chrysler products, already sport in excess of 85% HSS steel. Neither of these have the prospect of achieving much more weight reduction from the unibody/chassis. So much will have to come from the drivetrain. Multiple gear transmissions that improve mileage, are more complex and heavy.

Downsized engines with turbos don't significantly alter the weight. Compare two very modern engines. The all-alloy 2.0 liter eco-boost Ford 2.0 liter, I-4, weighs within 40 pounds of the 3.5 liter equipped, all-alloy V-6 in the new Ford Edge. So weight savings from engine downsizing will not increase mileage any where near enough.

Some improvements from improved combustion technology like HCCI, will increase mileage but no one is forcasting 50% increases in mileage from HCCI and that won't be anywhere near enough anyways. To do all this in two auto geenration cycles is just ridiculous, as most car designs last 5-7 years before a total redesign.

I suspect all this agreeableness from the auto makers, is just waiting for the inevitable "Throw the Bums out" moment, when all these wishes will be rolled back to some form of sanity.

If the idiots in the present Administration had a single ounce of brains, they would be using the State department to initiate negotiations to develop treaties amongst the international automotive regulatory bodies, to unify safety and toxic emission standards. But they don't, and haven't any.

It wastes lots of money to change bumper height, auto lighting, engine emissions, crash regulations, rollover standards, side-impact regulations etc, just to satisfy another bunch of bureaucrats.

Or perhaps an even better idea, when we don't have enough money to run the government. Just adopt the European versions of regulations. Then we could eliminate the need for, and could close the EPA, NHTSA and DOE agencies, entirely. Or they could adopt our standards, as they are definitely better and tighter with respect to toxic emissions. Their safety standards might be preferable to ours though.

The money saved for the automakers from redundant efforts, could then be invested in fuel economy improvements. The money saved by the reduction in bureaucrats, would be appreciated by all.


Good ideas ExDemo, but they fall on closed minds.


Roger P...many very good points. Why less than 2% of us have realized that the Toyota Prius III+ already meet 2025 CAFE at no extra cost for a 5-passenger sedan? Is it because it is not big enough, not flashy enough, not American enough, too maintenance free, too low cost to operate etc?


No Harvey, it is because 98% of us think it costs too much for what you get, even with rebates from the US gov.

So you feel good about lower gas payments, do not actually save money and increase the national debt.

Roger Pham

Well, Ex-Demo, many excellent points, especially the overwhelming bureaucracy created by the Dems. However, if you would take a 35-mpg PHEV van or SUV (on Ford Escape Hybrid drive train), and run it 40% of the time on battery power, then you would average 58 mpg overall! "Ford, built to stay tough!"

Well, ToppaTom, good point! Let's try to buy American to help our economy. That's why I'm waiting for the soon-to-come Ford Cmax Hybrid, a 5-seater that can carry 5 in comfort and will get ~50 mpg city driving. This Cmax hybrid will be made in the USA in Wayne, Michigan, including the Lithium battery.
"Ford, drive one!"


The best course is not obvious.

Will the gov just modify the CAFE each year or 2 ?
That's not good.

Are their deals already made that pronise gov help in return for party donations?
That's not good

Will the "Big" 3 go bankrupt again and need more gov intervention where the gov picks "winners" and gives the company to the unions?
That's not good.

Of course any car maker can make cars that get 57 mpg or even better; but can they make a profit? Many don't even understand why they should.
That's not good.

Just mandate whatever MPG regardless of the consequences?
Simple, (not in the best sense of the word) and that's not good.

No good answer that I see - and I see little understanding of the scope of this problem (less fuel MUST be consumed but US automakers are at a big disadvantage vs Asia).

Many think just DO IT - try harder. Simple.

Downsized engines with turbos don't significantly alter the weight.
But they do decrease size and losses from both friction and pumping. This makes it easier to package (e.g. better streamlining) and simply burns less fuel.

If we can't compete, the best business strategy will be to close shop and/or go bankrupt and let others to try it. Governments cannot afford more bail outs. Even the Big-3 (with 10000+ others) are in jeopardy. That cycle will last as long as we learn how to be competitive again. UE may have similar problems soon. Meanwhile, many bubbles will burst. The bread line will get much longer in many countries.

Many acquired ways and addictions will have to be streamlined.

Roger Pham

Well, ToppaTom, let's look at the obvious:

Oil will run scarce not too long from now. Oil shortages will wreak havoc in our economy, as anyone can recall many times in the past. A smooth transition will be needed to avert economic catastrophe from future oil shocks. Unfortunately, it takes years, if not a decade to adjust to oil shortage by building more fuel-efficient vehicles and to reduce driving distances daily. Most consumers are not aware of this, or they have been misinformed, or disinformed.

The new MPG law is made with input and cooperation from most auto mfg's, meaning that the 54-mpg mandate is not arbitrarily made, but made with input from automotive experts. It is very technologically practical.

The US auto makers have been competing extremely well recently by making class-leading high mpg vehicles even more efficient than Asian or European makers. Do not sell short US automakers. Most US consumers need to know this and should buy more American to help boost our economy, while reduce the importation of petroleum in order to keep the cash at home to build better infrastructures for our economic future.

Has CAFE been raised earlier, the US car makers wouldn't have been in such a bad shape in 1980 and in 2008, and GM wouldn't need tens of billions $$ of bail-out money. Our economy wouldn't have tanked so badly since 2008 if we had been more fuel-efficient all along.

And lastly, the doubling of CAFE will give the gov. the ground to double the price of petrol by 2025 to help wean us off petroleum dependency, while allowing alternative fuels or energy forms to compete successfully.


What is obvious is that gas is becoming expensive and too much is being imported.

The new CAFE law was made behind closed doors, can be changed by the next administration and "54-mpg is very technologically practical" does not necessarily mean with the existing vehicle sizes. Over 100 mpg is technologically practical - with expensive mini sized hybrids, a market the US auto makers don't do well in.

The US auto makers have been competing moderately well after gov handouts, but just like with cameras, toys, tools, TVs, clothes and cell phones, US manufacturers are not re-capturing those markets.

They sold 125 Volts in July, 3,200 to date, but they expect big things. Right - as soon as the novelty wears off they'll sell like hot cakes. And this is with the $7k cov rebate.

Had CAFE been raised earlier, the US car makers would have been in bad shape earlier.

There has beeen a LONG string of US small cars by all US auto makers since the 60s, with dismal results.

Our economy tanked after 2008 because we put people in houses they could not afford to even rent, with no money down.

And lastly, nothing will give the govt the guts to double the price of petrol by 2025 because by then gas will cost more already and those with no money will have the gas hogs.

Roger Pham

Sadly, Toppa Tom, your negative perception of US industry is shared by many who are oblivious to the past accomplishments of the USA.

To make US industry more competitive, we need a more intelligent government that will lead the industry and big businesses, instead of BEING LEAD by them! To get a more intelligent government, Congress will need to pay at least $10 millions yearly salary for US President, $2M for Senators, and $1M for Representatives. Extra performance bonuses to the $ million$ for every percentage reduction in unemployment, gain in economic growth, and reduction in deficits and even more for budget surpluses. Their private lives should be off limit to public scrutiny!

Top qualifying presidential or congressional candidates should be provided with millions of public money enough for successful campaign so that they do not have to depend on special interest groups which will later own them.

I'm not talking about dictatorship nor centralized planning here, for both have failed. Private businessss must be allowed to compete in level playing field. The government's role will be to make laws, taxes, tax incentives, and tariffs, to spur future developments that will lead to job growth, industrial competitiveness, and protection from foreign competitors who have unfair cost advantages (subsidies from their government, lax environmental and labor laws in their countries, etc), as well as protection from job outsourcing.

Green Economic development will be the engine of future economic prosperity and job growth, yet still vastly under-appreciated.


Feebates, fleet procurement, and affordable government financing can drive this transition. We must also apply integrative design for lightweighting our fleet of vehicles.


RP...excellent propositions to potentially transform the current voluble poppets into well paid productive law makers.

Changes in the population and country true (measured) overall well being should be used to establish the salaries + bonus given to our future law makers.

Of course, many of the factors you mentioned (among many others) could be used to arrived at the true well being level.

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