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First Look: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL

Giving meaning to “Sporty” and “Light.”

by on Dec.16, 2011

Mercedes puts the new SL on a rigid diet.

For six decades, Mercedes-Benz has stretched the definition of SL – the letters attached to its flagship 2-seat roadster supposedly standing for “Sport” and “Light.”  But with the launch of the all-new 2013 Mercedes SL, those words – and initials finally take on their true meaning.

After months of peering at grainy spy shots and teaser images we can finally present the first official shots of the new 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL – while reporting that the next-gen roadster will be as much as 300 pounds lighter, depending on trim, than the outgoing SL line.

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The new roadster will make its formal debut at the Detroit Auto Show little more than three weeks from now but here’s a first peek.

Visually, it’s an all-new look, with the 2013 SL borrowing many of its cues from the maker’s flagship SLS supercar, including the more upright grille and headlamps – though you might also perceive a few subtle details lifted from the small Mercedes SLK.


Audi Planning to Slash Q7 Weight by 770 Pounds

German maker the latest to target big weight cuts.

by on Sep.21, 2011

Audi turned to diesel power to help boost the mileage of the big Q7 but now it wants to address the problem by slashing the ute's weight.

Audi plans to trim the weight of its hefty Q7 sport-utility vehicle by as much 770 pounds.  The maker is just the latest to announce plans to significantly cut the heft of its future products.

Ford Motor Co., for example, hopes to trim the weight on future product lines by as much as 20%, product chief Derrick Kuzak recently told, while makers as diverse as Nissan and Land Rover are also setting aggressive weight targets as part of their efforts to meet tough new fuel economy standards.

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Audi’s planned diet for the roughly 5,700-pound Q7 would amount to a significant 15% cut in weight, according to a report in Car & Driver magazine.

Meanwhile, the Volkswagen Touareg – which shares many of the same underlying components as the Q7 – has already dropped about 400 pounds with the current, second-generation model, as has the other Q7 sibling, Porsche’s Cayenne.


Nissan Wants to Trim Vehicle Weight By 15%

But increasing government mandates could offset gains.

by on Jul.12, 2011

Nissan trimmed 150 lbs off the weight of the new Versa sedan and hopes to cut mass by 15% on future products.

When the new Nissan Versa sedan rolls into showrooms, in the coming weeks, motorists might notice it’s a bit more svelte, despite adding decidedly more cargo and interior space.

The Japanese subcompact is 150 pounds lighter than the vehicle it replaces, reflecting a conscious effort to put the second-generation Versa on a diet.  Indeed, Nissan has set a corporate goal of trimming at least 15% “off the weight of every vehicle” it develops, going forward, says Vice President of Product Planning Larry Dominique.

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That’s a critical step in the maker’s efforts to meet consumer demands for better mileage – and rapidly increasing government fuel economy mandates.  But it also underscores the conundrum makers like Infiniti face.  Even as they use smarter designs and lighter materials to reduce mass, tougher regulations – particularly when it comes to vehicle safety – force engineers to add content that only packs the weight back on.

The industry continues to discover a variety of ways to improve fuel economy, notes Dominique, such as 8-speed gearboxes, advanced turbocharging and direct injection.  But improvements to the internal combustion engine “are reaching their limits,” he stresses, “so we have to lighten up.

On a midsize car, goes conventional engineering wisdom, a 100-pound reduction can yield at least an extra mile a gallon.  So on a 3,000 to 3,500 pound vehicle like a Nissan Maxima, a 15% drop would be substantial.

How to get there is the challenge.  Makers like Nissan have been turning to lighter-weight materials, such as aluminum, magnesium and advanced plastics.  And even when they use steel they’re switching, where possible to thinner, high-strength alloys.  But “there’s a significant cost to that,” Dominique cautions.  “I could make all my seat frames out of magnesium, but I couldn’t afford it.”

Automakers see carbon fiber as a sort of Holy Grail, as it is incredibly light and phenomenally strong.  But, for now, it remains impossibly expensive, suited only to ultra-expensive models such as the Lexus LF-A supercar build by Nissan’s rival, Toyota.  Like all so many other executives, Dominique says he is hoping that, going forward, new manufacturing processes will be developed to bring carbon fiber into the realm of mainstream automakers.

There are other ways to reduce weight, noted the Nissan planner.  The new Versa has about 20% fewer parts and components.  In some cases, developers were able to shift to one large piece of molded plastic where three might have been needed in the old sedan.  And that reduces overlaps and eliminates fasteners that can yield a 5% savings, according to Dominique.

Meanwhile, by trimming the weight of the overall body, for example, Nissan might then be able to switch to smaller brakes and a lighter, less powerful engine.  The new Versa migrates from a 1.8-liter inline-four to a new 1.6-liter engine.

The Japanese marque is by no means the only manufacturer pursuing significant weight reductions.

“In the mid-term, from now to 2017 or 2018, we’ll remove anywhere from 250 to 700 pounds depending on the vehicle,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s global product development chief.  (Click Here for more on Ford’s program.)

But such numbers can be misleading.

Nissan proposed weight reductions refer to apples-to-apples comparisons – that is, assuming that the next-generation Altima, for example, were to feature the same levels of content as the outgoing model.  But that seldom happens.

For one thing, consumers continue to demand more and more content, whether it’s larger, more powerful infotainment systems or new, heated/cooled seats.

Add to that what the government continues mandating, such as the latest roof crush standards.  “We know that keep adding weight to the car,” lamented Dominique, during an interview following a drive in the new Versa.  “And that will offset much of the weight we hope to save.”