Let’s face it—nobody in the automotive industry actually loves the idea of the 54.5 mpg (40 mpg in real-world driving conditions) vehicle fleet average mandated by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard. That number was not arrived at via scientific analysis; it was a mandate pulled out of the ether and made into law with little regard for science. But when the mandate came down, engineers had to quickly figure out how this potentiality could become reality.

Of course, this is often how innovation happens: Engineers are asked to achieve something they never thought of or thought possible. Through materials research, processing trial and error, and the marvelous use of plastics—the material “greens” love to hate—manufacturers came up with exciting new ways to lightweight vehicles (It must really frost the “greens” that it requires the use of more of that dreaded plastic to help cut vehicle emissions!).

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