No bolt is being left untouched as carmakers in both the U.S. and Europe strive to develop cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles. Everything from weight-saving measures to aerodynamic tweaks and even downsized engines are being investigated in the hope that engineers can come up with fuel economy improvements. Ford is going one step further and looking at nanotechnology for improvements in performance and fuel-economy to beat the impeding CAFE requirements.

Ford scientists are testing new paints, plastics, light metals and catalysts developed using nanotechnology that are much lighter than current materials. They developed a method to separate and disperse nanoparticles them into existing materials in a way that makes vehicles lighter, more durable, and more fuel efficient.

Ford has called out vehicle weight reduction as a key part of its strategy to improve fuel economy by 40% by 2020. The goal is reduce vehicle weight from 250 to 750 pounds - depending on the model – between 2012 and 2020 without compromising safety.

Some powertrains already are benefiting from the carmaker’s initial development of nanotechnology and mircomechanical properties. A study dubbed "Atoms to Engines" looked at the structure of cast aluminum alloys at near atomic levels. From this work, a detailed analysis of the structure, property, and process relationship of the aluminum alloy engine blocks has led to reduced engine weight and, in turn, increased fuel efficiency.

Researchers are currently evaluating advanced surface coating applications that could enhance paint adhesion, appearance and durability with the aim of one day launching scratch resistant paint.