Kazuhiro Matsui, currently of Novi, originally from Japan, takes pictures of this Ford F150 aluminum-door skin. Matsui is an auto-part supplier with Aisin. The All-New Ford F-150 will come with aluminum skin and other parts as seen at the Detroit Auto Show on Tuesday. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Many of the new trucks and cars on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this year are being shaped not just by the automakers’ designers and engineers, but also by the government.
Car companies, foreign and domestic, are taking big risks with new technologies in order to meet tough new federal fuel economy standards, which require manufacturers to achieve a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
To meet that goal, Ford Motor Co. is turning to lightweight aluminum. Chrysler Group LLC is adding gears to its transmissions. And Toyota Motor Corp. is rolling out more hybrids. Their approaches may be different, but they are all trying to square the same circle: eking out more and more miles per gallon without sacrificing performance or capability.
“We know we have to meet the one national standard by 2025. And that’s important. But what’s more important is, ‘What does the customer want, and how can we exceed that so that we have a competitive advantage?’ ” Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields told The Detroit News Tuesday.
That is why Ford decided to make the body of its new F-150 out of aluminum, and why it plans to use more of the lightweight metal on all of its cars and trucks.
“Customers told us they want increased capability in their trucks and they want good fuel economy,” Fields said, adding that building the truck out of aluminum will shave hundreds of pounds off the F-150 and boost the truck’s fuel economy without cutting back on its towing and hauling capabilities.
Chrysler looked at using aluminum in its pickups, too, but decided to take a different approach. While it is using aluminum for its Ram truck hoods and is incorporating novel aerodynamic technology, the Auburn Hills automaker is getting its biggest fuel economy gains from its transmissions.
Chrysler offers an eight-speed transmission on its Ram 1500 pickup. Its competitors use six-speed gearboxes. And the company is offering an even more fuel-efficient nine-speed transmission on its new 2015 Chrysler 200. The result is a sporty new sedan that boasts 35 miles of highway fuel economy without a hybrid powerplant — or the price premium that comes with a hybrid.
“Technologically, it’s the most advanced thing you can do,” Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters Monday. “(It’s) probably the most compact rendition of a planetary transmission you can find.”
But hybrids remain the best choice for Toyota. The Japanese automaker is considering a hybrid version of its Tundra pickup.
“We have a huge advantage with hybrids,” said Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America, noting that the company sold 345,000 in 2013 alone. “Hybrids are going to remain our core technology.”
No single way
General Motors is taking a different approach with trucks.
Not only has GM re-entered the midsized pickup market with its 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, but it is offering them with four-cylinder motors. In 2016, GM will add a turbo-diesel option for both trucks.
“We have changed the company to a company now that defines some of the segments by mass efficiency rather than ‘General Motors, another heavy car, it’s another big powertrain’ — all that stuff we used to do,” said GM’s global product development chief Mark Reuss.
Yet these headline technologies are only part of each automakers’ story. GM is also using more aluminum in its vehicles and — with Ford — developing a nine-speed transmission of its own.
Ford also has hybrids and has made a big bet on its EcoBoost engines, which combine turbo-charging and direct fuel-injection to get more power out of smaller motors. And Toyota is about to bring a hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle to market.
Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said automakers need to explore all these options.
“It’s always going to be a combination of solutions — partly engines, partly transmissions, partly materials, partly aerodynamics, partly plug-in hybrid,” Lutz told the News. “There’s so many ways to get there and there is no single best way.”
Fuel economy is not the only thing government regulators worry about. Safety is also a major concern, though in this area the automakers seem to be keeping ahead of the regulators.
Many of the new vehicles on display at Cobo Center feature backup cameras. Ford is even offering a 360-degree camera to make it easier to park its new F-150.
Other automakers are offering sensors that will alert drivers who drift out of their lane or fail to brake for slower traffic.
Some, such as the new Mercedes C-Class apply the brakes if owners fail to react to warnings and will steer the car back into the proper lane automatically.
“Our vision is that the driver continues to be in control — but whenever he does something which puts his life or the life of other parties at risk, the car will step in,” said Daimler AG Chairman Dieter Zetsche.
Melissa Burden contributed