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Weighty Matters

Advanced Automobiles

When thinking about energy-efficient cars, electric motors and hybrid engines often are the first things we think about. But what a car weighs – and what materials it is made of – has a huge effect on energy use. Because it takes less energy to move a lighter object than a heavier one, a 10% decrease in car weight can result in 6%-8% improvement in fuel economy. Scientists and engineers are exploring new materials that can replace traditional "mild" steel, while still providing the strength and safety we need.

Produced as a limited edition “concept car” available only in Europe, the Volkswagen XL1 has a record-setting European combined fuel consumption rating of 261 miles per gallon. This plug-in hybrid can travel 32 miles producing no emissions using only its electric motor, and weighs very little compared to a standard car. Through its use of lightweight materials, such as magnesium wheels and ceramic brake discs, the XL1 sets a new model for energy efficiency.

Images: Volkswagen (XL1)