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Automakers’ Weight-Loss Program: Shedding LBS to Get Better MPG

The White House is set to announce a $140 million project on Tuesday to speed the development of new lightweight metals and other materials—a program that could translate into more fuel-efficient cars and aircraft.

The new Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) Institute is expected to generate as many as 10,000 jobs—but the payoff could be significantly greater in the long term if it yields a more competitive U.S. manufacturing base.

It's one of three manufacturing institutes that President Obama introduced during his State of the Union speech last month.

Based near Detroit, the project will receive $70 million in federal funding with a matching $70 million coming from other sources. A total of 34 companies, nine universities and 17 other groups—including Alcoa, General Electric, Honda, the universities of Michigan and Kentucky, and the American Foundry Society—will participate. The project will "focus on lightweight and modern metals manufacturing," according to the White House.

There's a growing interest in the use of aluminum, titanium and high-strength steel as well as more exotic materials such as carbon fiber, in the aerospace and automotive industries. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for example, is produced largely out of carbon fiber.

Ford expects to shave as much as 700 pounds off the 2015 remake of its F-150 pickup by switching the body from steel to aluminum—adding perhaps 5 mpg in the process.

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