By on April 12, 2012

For a long time, carbon fiber was a high tech, high cost product. Slowly, carbon fiber is going mainstream. From Volkswagen to Toyota and GM, large automakers have carbon fiber projects in the works. Now, Ford is joining the bandwagon made from lightweight fiber.

Ford  joined up with fiber specialist Dow Chemical “to develop cost-effective ways of using carbon fiber in high-volume cars and trucks as the No.2 U.S. automaker moves to cut vehicle weight to improve overall fuel economy,” Reuters writes.

Shedding weight is one of the most efficient ways to increase fuel economy. If you don’t have to drag around superfluous weight, your car will go farther on a tank of gas, or a fully charged battery for that matter. By 2020, Ford aims to cut between 250 pounds and 750 pounds from its new cars and trucks, partly by using lighter materials.

Using carbon fiber instead of steel can lower the weight of a vehicle component by up to 50 percent, says to the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting a car’s weight by 10 percent can improve fuel economy by as much as 8 percent.

The biggest problem is cost: These space-aged materials command spaced-out prices. Bringing cost and weight down is the biggest challenge.

 

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29 Comments on “Fiber Fever: Carbon Goes Mainstream...”


  • avatar

    I personally don’t like wood interiors. Older generations were convinced that the interiors of luxury cars should be wood grained – as if they were rolling furniture. Personally, I HATE IT. The only wood I like is the piano black trim found in Mercedes/BMW/etc, but, I only liked it because it doesn’t look like wood.

    Carbon Fiber and Leather work perfectly together. Although they make the interior dark, they are easy to keep clean, difficult to damage and reduce weight.

    • 0 avatar
      cmoibenlepro

      I think the subject was not carbon fiber in interiors instead of wood, but in the structure of the car instead of steel.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      From the first chariot, right down to the most expensive new car, wood has been considered a major element in manufacturing vehicles. Questioning why is similar to questioning why leather is used. Your interpretaton is wrong. You don’t want to see an interior of a car as rolling furniture, but you are sitting on chairs, using tables and cup holders, looking through windows, and reading an instrument panel. Then you admit that you like wood that is shiny and black. Well, what is it? Do you like wood or do you not like lighter stained woods?

      Natural-based materials like wood and leather comfort us physically. We have a sense of touch among our five senses too. Being thrown down an expressway at deadly speeds enduces stress. Putting these materials into the interior of cars counters that. This is why the use of these materials have been traditionally considered luxurious. Luxuriating is a physical act enhancing the touch sense. We are physical creatures. These materials make us feel good.

      You denial to this exposes your fear of being touched, unless it is with shiny black lacquered wood which is colder and less tactile. This means that you obviously need to get laid.

      • 0 avatar
        pgcooldad

        I don’t like wood either. Matter of fact, I don’t like wood everyday. I especially don’t like wood before bedtime.

      • 0 avatar

        Vanilla Dude

        Getting laid is easy enough. Perhaps I don’t like to be touched. I certainly don’t like massages.

        I don’t feel I need to see wood or feel it in my cars. I’d be happier with high end plastics or synthetics – especially if they keep the weight of the vehicle down. Wood was used in cars because it was available and cheap – same reason it was used in houses.

        In reality, DIAMONDS are worthless because they are made of Carbon and the only thing that gives them value is the diamond cartels hoarding them. If we wanted diamond accents in our cars, it would add thousands onto the price of the car, but, not truly make it any more valuable.

      • 0 avatar
        wallstreet

        VD, I special order AL trim for my current ride with no wood. I get laid plenty just not with over-the-hill cougars.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        (knock,knock,knock)VanillaDude?
        (knock,knock,knock)VanillaDude?
        (knock,knock,knock)VanillaDude?

        You’re getting Sheldonized!

    • 0 avatar
      rodface

      I don’t second Vanilladude’s conclusion that you’re in need of (or in fear of) a gentle touch; but I do think he’s onto something about interior wood being a reflection of wood’s use as a major manufacturing element in generations past. However, unless you’re driving a Morgan, the only wood involved in your car’s manufacture is in the crates and pallets that delivered the parts to factory; I’m more in favor of honest design and honest materials, metal that isn’t ashamed to be metal, plastic that looks like plastic, etc. Texturing for purposes of grip, scratchproofing, hiding dirt, is fine. Carbon fiber would be a great replacement for wood trim; we like the way it looks, so it could mark the return of exposed, visible structural members in car interiors.

      • 0 avatar
        wallstreet

        Wood trim is so last millennium, but it does attract over-the-hill cougars.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Thanks, but if you take a look at the world’s most luxurious cars, you will not find a sterile lab interior. You will find tactile natural materials. Natural materials are recyclable. Natural materials feel good. Plop your cotton-covered butt upon a fine cow hide, and grasp the elegant warm wooden grab handles, and you will discover that there will always be room for these fine natural materials. There is a reason why an expensive car uses these materials and a cheap car does not. It isn’t generational based. If anything, natural is being rediscovered.

        Even in the darkest recesses of the darkest modern Star Trek furnishings, modern materials had always included wood and leather for their comforting and luxuriating feel. It ain’t Old School – it is what’s needed in many vehicles today.

        …and this “cougar” thing – what’s with that? No one is talking about the interior of Mercury Cougar, circa 1980.

      • 0 avatar
        wallstreet

        I comprehend the usage of cow hide & leather which I’m not disputing with you. However, I haven’t seen expensive car such as R8 or Lamborghini using wood trims. BTW, most expensive sedans are also offerring metal and even CF trims these days.

      • 0 avatar

        When humans are all dead and Earth pushes everything we’ve built under subduction zones, EVERYTHING WILL BE RECYCLED.

        LAVA solves everything.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “LAVA solves everything.”

        Can I get that on a T-shirt or drink mug?

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        You may or may not like wood panels (though doubt they weigh much), but many others do. I think they can look very attractive if used in moderation, not slathered on a large portions of the dash like a 1970s American cars. I especially hate woods where it looks very unnatural, like in a curved or rounded surfaces. Remember they were _trim_ pieces.

      • 0 avatar
        WildcatMatt

        “LAVA solves everything.”

        This is why I keep a bottle of it on the sink!

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    I don’t think you’d use the carbon fiber in the interior, at least not at this point. For one thing I think it does not do well with long term exposure to sunlight, and also you’d want it to replace heavy steel, not relatively light plastic compenents. I have a bike with a carbon fiber fork, and the fiber is quite capable of doing weight bearing jobs.

  • avatar
    jaje

    I see carbon fiber making progress down to mass market cars (albeit slowly) through two things going on – the price of steel has increased significantly the past several years as recycling efforts and mining become more expensive as you have to move heavy steel from where it is collected, refine it and then move the steel materials to where it can be processed. Then add to the fact that automakers are looking to make cars lighter by using higher strength steel (less of it) which increases the cost of the car, aluminum and other lighter than steel materials which cost more. The cost of metal is going up to the point where it is not longer so cheap to produce that non metal alternatives are making their mark.

    The flip side is the cost of carbon fiber manufacturing is going down with more acceptance in the industry and economies of scale. I can’t find any recent data of cost per manufacturer but in 2008 it was $16 per pound with $8 per pound as the magic number you want to reach to be on par.

    Carbon Fiber is known to have fatigue endurance weakness and prolonged exposure to sunlight will reduce its strength. I’m wondering how all these $1M supercars with their carbon fiber monocoque, drivetrain and suspension parts will fare 20 years from now.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      Good points, but considering that most people only keep a car for between 5 – 7 years (okay, 7 – 10), there’s not much need to build them for 20 year lifespans.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    I read an article about the new McLaren car a year ago. They went into their design process and how most of the car was actually made of some special type of fiber reinforced plastic rather than CF. It was apparently lighter, cheaper, and easier to work with.

    People still like CF because it brings to mind racecars and airplanes, when in reality, both of those are currently moving beyond carbon fiber in their manufacturing processes.

    Newer composites are where the the future is at, and after reading about that McLaren process, I couldn’t help but be sold on the product.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      >fiber reinforced plastic rather than CF.

      If I’m not mistaken, that is what we’re talking about. Depending on the manufacture, CF is the lightest of the composite fibers out there, and depending on the application you can overlay it on plastic, aluminum honeycomb etc.

    • 0 avatar
      moofie

      OK, the fiber reinforced plastics? The fibers? That’s the carbon fiber.

      Carbon fiber reinforced plastic. That’s what we’re talking about. What do you suppose race cars and airplanes are moving /to/?

      Are the fibers and the matrix materials evolving? They surely are. Carbon fiber reinforced plastic is a large family of material technologies.

      McLaren is, indeed, employing very advanced carbon fiber reinforced plastic manufacturing techniques.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Just wait until you have to repair or replace carbon fiber parts.

    Another challenge is appearance – it’s not so easy to get carbon fiber to look like steel.

  • avatar
    tced2

    There is a bit of experience in using carbon fiber in race cars – IndyCar for instance. But a chassis costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and are practically custom made.

    Speaking of repairs, I’ve often wondered about how suspensions are attached to the carbon fiber frame. And how the suspension “gives away” when having an accident – allowing for new suspension parts to be re-attached. I don’t think that carbon fiber can be repaired – once it is damaged – a new part is needed.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Except as it is, carbon can be toxic to cure and is not recyclable. The industry is built up around recycling old car bodies, even if composite manufacturing was suddenly cheap, the end of life issues would be challenging. However, carbon reinforced safety cages would be a tremendous thing.

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    I could see carbon fibre being used for things like seat and door frames. It already is for high-end Porsches and BMWs

    For recycling carbon fibre, there are many potential solutions; it can be ground down into pellets and mixed with tar and gravel and used in tarmac for roads.

    • 0 avatar
      banjopanther

      You really don’t want to mix CF with asphalt for use in roads. For one thing it’s sharp, CF makes nasty splinters on it’s own, and cured into a matrix, it will cut you easily. Secondly, it’s hazardous to inhale, especially if cars are wearing it down into a powder.

  • avatar
    geo

    When I saw the title, I thought Carbon Motors had given up on police cars, and was going to try selling cars to the public.


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