U.S. Energy Department Secretary Steven Chu said developmental projects would target carbon-fiber composites, advanced steels and other materials that would make passenger cars and trucks lighter and more energy efficient.
"With strong, lightweight materials we have an opportunity to dramatically increase vehicle fuel economy, while helping America maintain its competitive edge in automotive design and manufacturing," he said in a statement.
The Energy Department said reducing the weight of a vehicle 10 percent could improve fuel economy as much as 8 percent.
The average fuel economy for model year 2011 cars was listed at 34.4 miles per gallon, a 2 percent increase from the 2010 model year. The department said gasoline consumption in the country was down in part because of improved fuel efficiency for passenger cars and trucks.
U.S. President Barack Obama last year announced plans to cut oil imports by more than 30 percent by 2025. He also set a goal of more than 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015.