'Lightweighting' of car materials shaking up body shops

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The automotive industry has decided it needs to lighten up. But the fallout is making body shops uptight.

In the drive to improve fuel economy, car makers are moving away from conventional steel toward lighter materials. But that's changing the game for repair shops, where a little welding here and there will no longer get the job done. An executive with the Twin Cities chain LaMettry's Collision tells USA Today fixing the new materials requires expensive equipment that is dividing body shops into the haves and have nots.

A piece from Climatewire republished by Scientific American last year says automakers need to reach a federal standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. While there are lots of ways to improve fuel efficiency, a spokesman for the aluminum company Alcoa says "all of them begin with lightweighting."

While aluminum is making deeper inroads into the automotive industry, the Wall Street Journal reports steel is fighting back by offering its own lighter, high-strength variations.

Whatever our cars are made of, the need to get them repaired seems unlikely to go away -- partly because we're driving them longer. As the journal Design News reported last week, even a decade-old vehicle is younger than the national average, which has now reached 11.

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