* Lighter cars try to meet new US efficiency goals
* Trend seen predominantly in GM Chevy cars
* But other makers go spareless in some models
By John Crawley
Nov 8 Automakers are losing weight by shedding
that spare tire.
More passenger cars are rolling off assembly lines with no
jack, wrench or fifth wheel in the trunk as the U.S. government
seeks more aggressive fuel economy targets and consumers demand
savings at the pump.
"There are increasing pressures to find alternatives," said
Dave Cowger, group manager of tire engineering at General
The spareless effort, for now, is playing out predominantly
at GM where most of its nearly two dozen car and crossover
models in the United States do not offer spare tires as
But the trend can also be spotted industrywide, mainly on
overseas models and frequently on cars designed for increased
"For customers who want an extra wheel, they can get a
compact spare as an option. That's the way we try to package
it," Cowger said.
Virtually all cars had spares just a few years ago.
That has changed as 20 percent of the 1.2 million sedans,
compacts and other passenger cars sold in the United States
this year through October came without spares as standard
equipment, according to data from online buyer research group
Full-size spares remain standard in big-selling large
pickups and SUVs that make up more than half of industry sales
because they are commonly used as work trucks on unfriendly
road surfaces or for towing.
These include Ford F-Series pickup, the best-selling
vehicle in America, and the Dodge Ram pickup.
"We'll still offer one as long as the customer expects it,"
said Vince Muniga, a spokesman for truck-heavy Chrysler.
The top-selling passenger car in the United States, the
Toyota Camry, also comes with a spare, as do popular
Ford compacts and sedans.
GM and other automakers, however, are producing spare-free
vehicles, part of a strategy to answer an Obama administration
plan to double average fuel efficiency requirements to 54.5
miles per gallon by 2025.
Losing the "donut" wheel, the compact spare offered in many
cars for decades, and its related equipment, can save more than
25 pounds (11 kilograms), industry experts said.
That yields an average savings of less than 1 mpg, but it
is part of an efficiency strategy that capitalizes on
incremental gains. For instance, a spareless trunk was one of
42 changes made by GM on manual Chevy Cruze Eco models to reach
an estimated 42 miles per gallon on the highway.
AAA data shows that tire problems steadily represented
about 12 percent of more than 3.5 million calls annually to the
motorist group for roadside assistance from 2000-2010. Despite
the figure, automakers believe safety advancements have made
the spare tire less crucial.
They point to tire pressure monitoring systems and roadside
assistance programs, like GM's OnStar offering, that make it
less likely motorists will get flats or be stranded by them.
Vehicles without a spare usually feature a trunk-mounted
inflator kit that includes a mini compressor and a sealant to
close small holes and reinflate damaged tires. Automakers and
consumer groups stress inflators are designed to seal minor
punctures, not repair a large cut or a damaged sidewall.
Toyota's Prius hybrid has a spare but the plug-in version
carries an inflator, standard, as does the all-electric Nissan
Leaf . The Fiat 500 , a subcompact that
Chrysler is hoping will revive its U.S. car lineup and boost
fleet fuel efficiency, also features an inflator.
Hyundai , BMW , and Mercedes
also offer inflators in certain vehicles.
John Nielsen, director of auto repair and buying services
for AAA, cited anecdotal evidence of drivers who were surprised
by the lack of a spare tire.
"The feedback we've received has centered on not having a
spare and not knowing about the inflator kit," Nielsen said.
"The number of examples are small and would seem
statistically insignificant, but the motorists that find out
they don't have a spare in a moment of need consider the issue
GM is showing some flexibility on the issue. Responding to
demand last year from customers who wanted a spare, GM added
them standard to those 2012 Cruze models that realize extra gas
mileage from a more efficient transmission.
Houston-area Chevy dealer Carroll Smith said a typical
consumer response is that it is smarter to have a spare and his
showrooms will order one ahead of time, if it is available.