TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — The last time the auto industry took on fuel economy, it was because of an oil embargo that prompted lines at gasoline stations, higher prices and the first Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements in the U.S.
That was in the 1970s.
Now, there is no immediate sign that oil prices are going to surge anytime soon, but government regulations across the globe are ensuring the industry will take fuel economy very seriously — and almost no one expects those regulations will ease up.
In its annual survey of auto industry insiders, DuPont Co. and WardsAuto found that only 8 percent of the respondents expected regulations would relax, compared to nearly half — 47 percent — anticipating requirements would strengthen further.
The survey, released Aug. 7 during the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, was conducted by Paramount Research for DuPont and WardsAuto, with 1,300 responses. About half of those people participating are in engineering or research and development.
In the U.S., automakers are working toward a CAFE standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, while the European Union is looking at more stringent carbon dioxide standards for 2020 — although the EU recently delayed a vote to adopt those standards.
Those regulations will be the biggest driver in fuel performance and clean technology demands over the coming decades, noted Kevin Layden, director of electrified powertrain engineering for Ford Motor Co. of Dearborn, Mich.
"You must reduce your [emissions] output," added Bob Lee, vice president and head of the engine, powertrain and electrified propulsion systems engineering for Chrysler Group LLC of Auburn Hills, Mich. "It doesn't matter if you're in Europe, in China, in the U.S. or South America."
More than 60 percent of survey participants said that lighter weight has gained value in automotive business discussions since 2011, while plastics is gaining potential as a future alternative material to meet lighter weight goals.
In past surveys, aluminum led the list of materials expected to help meet fuel economy standards. For 2013, aluminum tied with engineering plastics.
On a five-point scale asking which materials would be more useful in meeting fuel economy requirements, both aluminum and engineering plastics scored 4.2, with advanced composites just behind at 4.1.
"Development activity with automakers is intensifying, especially related to new composite and multi-material solutions that deliver the strength and stiffness needed for performance and safety," said Mike Day, DuPont automotive Performance Polymers development director in North America.