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Discussion of reduced vehicle mass and its impact on vehicle safety and fuel consumption dominated conversation during the Feb. 25 symposium sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). During the day-long event, engineers and automobile manufacturers shared results of studies and crash test reports designed to analyze the implications of reduced vehicle mass. NHTSA welcomed the information in advance of upcoming rulemakings that will regulate fuel economy and greenhouse gases for light-duty vehicles, model year 2017 and beyond.
Specifically, NHTSA officials are concerned about the impact on crash protection and occupant safety of reduced vehicle mass that will be needed to meet more stringent fuel economy standards. NHTSA is implementing a statistical approach to address the effect of vehicle mass reduction over time while pursing an engineering approach to analyze the “affordable and feasible” levels of mass reduction achieved while sustaining vehicle safety. Through these studies, NHTSA hopes to determine how much mass can be reduced without compromising safety.
While the goal of reducing mass without compromising safety is encouraged by many automakers, they have expressed concern about the timing of the studies. Scott Schmidt of Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers stated his disappointment during the symposium that many of the proposed NHTSA studies will not be concluded before the agency’s rulemaking decisions.
Additionally, Schmidt stated that the alliance hopes that NHTSA will ensure that the rulemaking process is flexible, adaptable and leads to a comprehensive national standard. Also, he hopes that the process will protect the current vehicle safety trajectory and consider the real-world constraints and commercial uncertainties within the automobile industry.