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Designers seek ways to make cars lighter

Michael Arbaugh is looking forward to the day when automotive designers get rid of CD players.

Doing so would eliminate about five pounds and would free up critical space on the center stack where technology is offering other choices, said Arbaugh, chief designer for Ford interiors.

Behind the interface, a CD player competes for space with heating and cooling units, and other technology.

"That's oceanfront property when you are talking about the center stack," Arbaugh said. "I think anybody under 30 is probably using all MP3 devices. They don't buy CDs."

To the average person, five pounds might not seem like a lot for a car that weighs 2,000 pounds or more.

But for designers like Arbaugh, knowing when to eliminate something like a CD player is a critical decision -- especially as automakers race to meet tougher fuel economy standards.

For nearly 30 years, the government's fuel economy standards did not change significantly. Now by 2016, the U.S. fleet average for automakers must reach 34.1 miles per gallon, up from 27.5 mpg for passenger cars in 2010 and 23.5 mpg for light trucks. At the same time, automakers must also continue to meet stricter safety requirements and incorporate new communication technology to stay competitive.

Arbaugh was among three automotive designers who spoke Friday in Detroit at the Automotive Press Association.

Robert Boniface, director of design for Cadillac exteriors, predicted that automakers will begin using more carbon fiber in the near future even though it is expensive.

"As a design element, carbon fiber is a beautiful material," Boniface said. "It's lightweight, it is structurally sound -- we like it."

Boniface also predicted the cost of carbon fiber will fall somewhat as automakers work more closely with the suppliers who produce it. Already, carbon fiber is surfacing on vehicles more often as accessories, he said.

"As fuel requirements become more stringent, we are going to have to use it," Boniface said.