Car Weight, CAFÉ Standards, and Car Insurance

Have you heard about the new Ford F-150? It would be hard to miss the press on its predominate aluminum body. Ford shaved 700 pounds off last year’s model by switching from steel to aluminum for 97% of the outside of the truck’s body. Doing so helped improve theF-150’s fuel economy from 5% to 29% depending on which engine is installed.

Many people wondered why Ford did it, but one only has to look at the CAFÉ, or Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard for 2025; it’s an average of 45 miles per gallon. One of the ways car and truck manufacturers will get there is to reduce the weight of each vehicle as Ford has done with the F-150.

Aluminum body parts will be one tool auto makers use to reduce body weight; about 30% of all vehicles already come with aluminum hoods. According to a Yahoo Autos article, other materials will also be used. Manufacturers are evaluating roofs constructed with carbon fiber, plastic windshields, and bumpers made of aluminum foam. The new Cadillac ATS utilizes high strength steel, a lighter version of the traditional steel found in previous models, to help shed weight.

All of these materials help cars and trucks lose weight and move closer to the 2025 CAFÉ standards for fuel economy. They appear to do so without sacrificing passenger safety based on how they’ve fared in government crash tests. I believe we’re in a time when we’ll see tremendous technology change in cars and trucks.

What no one seems to be asking though, is what the insurance implications are of these new materials. I believe there will be at least two;

  • Vehicle cost
  • Crash worthiness

Each of the new materials cost more than their conventional counterparts. Aluminum is 30% more expensive than conventional steel (which is much more available too), and carbon fiber is 5 to 6 times more expensive than conventional steel. The average price of today’s car is over $32,000. Using these materials will drive that price up even more which should result in higher car insurance rates too.

In addition to higher vehicle prices, parts prices will escalate as the use of these materials increases. Higher parts prices will result in higher claim costs. Most car and truck owners don’t realize that car insurance looks at the amount paid in a prior claim as one of the factors when weighing a claim’s impact on your insurance rate. The more expensive the claim, the greater the impact it has when calculating your rate.

The new materials are performing well in government crash tests in protecting the passengers, and that’s excellent news. What I’ve not seen, is any data on the level or amount of damage sustained in a moderate crash of 30 to 40 miles per hour. Will these new materials be as or more resilient as current vehicles involved in an accident, or will the level of damage increase? Even if they hold up as well as current vehicles, the parts will be more expensive which drive up repair costs, as well as the cost of your insurance.

Ultimately, I believe car insurance will get more expensive as we transition to these lighter weight materials. What do you think? Share your thoughts with me on our Google +, Facebook, or LinkedIn page. I’d love to hear from you!

Evie Wise
Evie Wise


Evie Wise
Evie Wise

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