Automakers are desperate to slim down - one part at a time.
Gasoline prices are climbing, yet cars and trucks continue to gain weight at the worst possible time.
According to a just-released report from the Environmental Protection Agency, the average 2006-model vehicle weighs a portly 4,142 pounds - nearly 500 pounds more than the average vehicle sold 10 years earlier.
So, like an overweight customer ordering an entree at a restaurant, automakers want the chef - in this case, suppliers - to take out the fat. During a July 11 roundtable discussion, supplier CEOs told Automotive News that weight reduction has become a top priority.
"Yes, we do have new (weight) targets for everything," said James Orchard, president of the North American operations for French seat maker Faurecia. "We're exploring all kinds of new materials."
Where's the beef?
The 2006 model year marks the heaviest vehicle fleet since the EPA began measuring weight in 1975.
In part, the weight gain reflects the growing popularity of pickups and SUVs over the past decade. But even within specific model lines, cars and trucks have added pounds (see chart).
The 2006 Toyota Avalon weighs 205 pounds more than the 1996 Avalon. After a decade of redesigns and feature enhancements, the 2006 two-door Honda Civic weighs nearly 400 pounds more than its ancestor.
Much of the weight gain is the result of motorists' taste for bigger, more powerful engines. The EPA report lists the average 2006-model engine at 239 hp, up from 179 hp a decade ago.
"Gadget creep" also bears some responsibility. Automakers are adding features such as DVD players, side airbags, bigger engines, backup cameras and cushier seats - all of which add pounds.
The easy path
Now that good fuel economy is a sales tool, the auto industry is scrambling to save weight. According to the American Plastics Council, every 10 percent reduction in weight delivers a 7 percent increase in fuel efficiency.