There's an arms race going on. It's being fought out by carmakers over the globe, but it's one that could finally be coming to an end.

It's the horsepower arms race. As power and weight have risen, economy has hit a plateau. New technology advancements may see power doing the same over the next decades, with economy finally rising at a significant rate.

The power race

The last couple of decades has seen horsepower figures rocket. As Detroit News points out, the hottest 1992 Mustang made 235 horsepower - now, you can drive off the lot in one with 650 hp.

A 1992 BMW M5 put out 315 hp - its modern equivalent makes 560. That would have made it a supercar in the early 90s.

Even fairly mundane vehicles offer relatively high power outputs now. Even so, thanks to the truly fast stuff going ballistic, we don't think of a 260-plus horsepower Toyota Camry as a powerful car, but 25 years ago a Ferrari 328 was putting out barely more from its 3.2-liter V8.

As consumers ask for more gadgets, more safety and more power, cars get heavier and larger. To compensate, even more power is required, which needs even stronger, tougher bodies and components, and weight rises more - it's a vicious circle.

A recent MIT study confirmed that with rising weight and performance, economy has taken a back seat.

Economy finally on the rise?

There have been big gains made in efficiency, but that efficiency has largely gone towards improving performance. That state of affairs is now changing, as carmakers are finding ways to reduce vehicle weight without compromizing on luxury, or safety.

Bring the weight down, and power is less critical. And if power is less critical, you can apply more technology to improving economy and emissions.

The lighter a car gets, the more you see improvements on every front - handling improves, acceleration and braking benefit, and with less weight to cope with, tires and brakes last longer - leading to cheaper running costs.

With less weight, economy also improves, making the car even cheaper to run. The environmental benefits speak for themselves - less dependency on oil and lower emissions.

In these days of concerns over our impact on the environment, and rising gas prices, Lotus founder Colin Chapman's ethos of "Add lightness" has never been more relevant.

Only these days, it isn't just about performance. We're in a new arms race - but this time, it's about efficiency.


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