ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Toyota could be the next automaker to add lightweight aluminum body panels in a bid to improve fuel economy. Jim Lentz, Toyota's North American CEO, all but confirmed it at an event last week to christen the company's expanded r&d center.
"I think as we look at future CAFE and at the competitive nature of the industry and other OEMs improving the mileage of their vehicles, we have to look at the many different ways to improve fuel economy," Lentz told reporters.
"That would include lightweighting," he added. "You can't just do it by powertrain alone. So, obviously, we will be looking at more and more ways to use lightweight material, like aluminum, in future products."
Lentz did not say which nameplates are being considered. AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan said Toyota would not likely follow Ford and use aluminum on its pickups and large SUVs.
"The volume is not there to justify the cost," he said. Instead, Sullivan expects Toyota to use aluminum on the hood and tailgate of a high-volume SUV or crossover, such as the RAV4.
No automakers have yet followed Ford and replaced a steel-bodied vehicle with an aluminum-body, which Ford did in late 2014 with the F-150 pickup.
Fiat Chrysler is adding aluminum doors, hood and tailgate and other parts to the next generation Jeep Wrangler and General Motors' next-generation full-sized pickups will be adding more aluminum panels next year.