By on March 18, 2017

Ford badge emblem logo

If you’re worried that your corroded subframe will one day eject your car’s engine or suspension components like a spent hull from an Ithaca pump, the future holds promise. (Though you should still get that undercarriage checked out.)

Ford Motor Company, working with mega supplier Magna International, has developed a prototype vehicle subframe made of carbon fiber-reinforced composites. The goal is to one day offer a subframe that’s impervious to rust, while reducing weight and complexity.

Magna claims the new structure reduces mass by 34 percent and makes do with 87 percent fewer parts.

Instead of the 45 steel parts needed to build a current Ford subframe, the prototype uses just four steel parts, plus two molded composite parts. Adhesive bonding and structural rivets join those two molded components into holy matrimony.

Besides the aforementioned benefits, equipping a vehicle with a carbon-fiber subframe could improve the model’s stiffness and crash performance. Assuming the structure holds up well under durability testing, the only potential drawback would be component cost — though the higher cost of the two composite pieces could be offset by the vast reduction in overall parts.

According to the supplier, the new design aced its performance requirements based on computer-aided engineering analyses. The subframes are now in production, bound for component and vehicle-level testing at Ford.

“Collaboration is the key to success in designing lightweight components that can give our customers fuel economy improvements without compromising ride and handling, durability or safety,” said Mike Whitens, Director of Vehicle Enterprise Systems with Ford Research and Advanced Engineering, in a statement.

He added, “We must continue to work hard to achieve these lightweight solutions at the most affordable costs.”

Next up for the prototypes is a healthy regimen of corrosion, stone chipping and bolt load retention tests, which can’t be performed by computers. While testing is underway, Ford plans to develop a game plan for the component’s manufacturing and assembly process.

The automaker hasn’t said what products would use the new subframe, nor when to expect it on the market. However, it certainly appears that the near future should yield a production model with a carbon fiber truss.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

66 Comments on “Carbon Fiber Could Be Coming to a Ford Subframe Near You...”


  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Weight loss and resultant FE gain must be a far more important brag for an OEM than corrosion resistance as leasing becomes more dominant.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      You didn’t buy and hold that.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      No no no … the only ‘brag’ that counts is how many awards you’ve won/bought.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      I’m guessing there’s an element of the Ford-owned shared transportation-as-service inside this decision as well, which would drive a longer in-service requirement.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      The best place for this is where they put their last weight reduction idea, the F series. That’s a buy and hold market where longevity sells. It’s where weight reduction pays big dividends in not just fuel use / performance but also load capability. It looks like the press release used the word “vehicle” every time, so that’s my bet. F series trucks.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        In practice, F150s towing close to max rated, are already suffering from tail wagging the dog, due to being “too light.” Unless the F series goes all futuristic Euro Gypsy and installs goose neck hitches on the cab roof, that isn’t likely to change, no matter how far into aerospace land it is possible to push vehicle material selection.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Stuki,
          From what I can gather Ford and GM plastics and lightweight materials design engineers had a meeting (GALM) at Oak Ridge Labs last August to discuss the best possible application for composite structures in motor vehicles.

          Ford’s line was high strength steel and aluminium will be used for sub frames and chassis components.

          Ford does predict that it will be using composites in the next five years for other vehicle components.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    The last time I was shopping for a used car, all the dealers included undercoating, for free! Yes, I know, it covers a plethora of problems.

    I live in the sunbelt, where cars last longer because chemically treated sand, salt, and brine aren’t spread on the roads, and carbon fiber will have to last as long as, or longer than, zinc coated steel. It seems a better solution is to find a snow/ice road formula that doesn’t melt cars.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      “It seems a better solution is to find a snow/ice road formula that doesn’t melt cars.”

      You would think the government would get on that, seeing all the damage it does not only to vehicles but also infrastructure.

      That’s not really up to the automakers, but building corrosion-resistant components is.

      Weight loss and in this case, less complexity, are also the goal here, not just to make salt belt car buyers a little less worried.

      My car was built in late 1994, and has lived down south its entire life (it was even built in Atlanta).
      The subframe has some surface rust and one of the areas where the mount was actually had a decent amount of decay. I cleaned it up and painted it with rust resistant paint for now (its structurally sound), before reattachig the subframe to the body after my recent suspension overhaul.

      When/if this car finally has a powertrain failure, I will recondition the subframe, or have a reconditioned (painted with rust resistant) unit from a another car ready to go, once the drivetrain is ready to go back in.

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      The amount of money this would save in vehicle repairs, accident avoidance, and intact roads + bridges would be easily enough to offset its cost in a decade.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Another byproduct of the push for higher fuel efficiency. In the current political climate these kind of advancements will grind to a halt. SAD!

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      Sometimes the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. I’d be curious to know what the cost/benefit of this is. As Ford is pushing this with the knowledge that those refs are likely not going to increase they must have a different motivation. Perhaps the hyper competitive nature of the car business is its own motivation.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Short term, it’s a “cost/benefit” loser. Every major (profitable) OEM would be jumping on it otherwise. So why not invest *now*, vs waiting for other OEMs to suck up the process patents, along with the major material handlers, like Ford did with ALCOA?

        Side-benefit it’s all a write-off.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        L’il Al,
        I disagree.

        The world, or to put it perspective more than 80% of the vehicle industry will push forward developing automotive technologies.

        This means the US has less to offer the world, ie, profit. I wrote about this the other day.

        The US needs more trade (manufacturing jobs) according to those who voted for Mr Twitter. How are you going to benefit by retarding development in what the world needs?

        R&D (privately funded) is a must for the US to create manufacturing jobs of the future along with closer alignment and harmonisation with the auto industry outside od the US.

        You can’t say we have bigger guns and you will buy US products.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        L’il,
        Ford has invested over ten years into the use of composites. Composites will take time to make it affordable.

    • 0 avatar
      Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

      The advancements will still come, it just makes it less likely that the US will have a leadership role in developing them.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      If there’s cost savings, the automakers will do it anyway. Fewer parts, less welding, faster assembly, and fewer warranty claims should make it profitable. The weight savings and fuel efficiency will be a bonus. All the “current political climate” is doing is allowing private industry to achieve goals by other means than government mandates and subsidies.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        ^exactly. Let the market dictate what we choose from.

        The market demands efficient vehicles, especially when prices for oil go up, it would be best to have a lineup that gets good mileage across the board.

        Bragging that your full-size half ton pickup will get 30+ mpg will be a major selling point even if Rush Limbaugh were running a dictatorship.

        Maybe not everything is the fault of the Trumpster. Maybe it’s not a bad thing anyway when you stop looking for ways to make it his fault.

        This announcement comes quite a while after His Trumpness had come to power. Everyone knew from the get-go that Trumper was likely to kill the ridiculous 54 mpg mandate.

        How about we “help” overweight people by mandating a 30″ average waist line by 2025?

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Only problem with the “let the market decide” mindset is what happens when the cost of oil spikes? That’s when all the “what’s the government doing about it” talk starts. As a kid during the early 70s oil embargo, I can attest to that being just what happened. The news was filled with stories of those who struggled to pay energy bills, the impact to our auto industry, the contraction of our economy. This is what gave rise to CAFE in the first place. Energy cost and availability has a direct correlation to our economic well being and our national security, let alone a myriad of other issues caused by excessive consumption. That 54 MPG standard BTW is a mockery. Because of the gift to the pickup truck industry with the footprint considerations, the real MPG is more like 45. That number is achievable.

          ….How about we “help” overweight people by mandating a 30″ average waist line by 2025?…

          A loaded comment for sure. All I will say is just wait for the diabetes epidemic to explode in this country. It has already started. The economic time bomb is ticking. And note that diabetes is not really the side effect of being overweight, rather diabetes and excessive weight together are the byproduct of the sugar-rich diet that Americans live on. Couple that with a sedentary lifestyle and you can see why we are in deep trouble in the near future. I’m not in favor of mandating anything here but somebody is going to pay. And that somebody is going to be all of us.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Lorenzo,
        The cost savings will only match subsidies and protection.

        Less of this and you will see greater innovation. Add greater external competition and this will produce more.

        This is why EU farmers are not as efficient as NA farmers. EU farmers know they will recieve more hanouts than even the rigged US corn industry.

        The Germans in 2013 subsidised each vehicle $1300USD. The US was at $3 000USD.

        Opel, constrained by US GM culture was not able to cut it.

        Even the EU retail model is working better globally than the US retail model.

        US business culture might need to adapt quicker to the new world.

        Australia was in a similar position as the US. Australia’s position was due to little competition from isolation. The US was from pure dominance since WWII.

        The world has shrunk. Australia is no longer isolated from its most important markets and competition increased.

        The US ia in a similar position. It’s economy has shrunk by over 60% proportionally on the world stage and its competitive advantage (influence) has shrunk.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      So sad when the government can’t force us to buy things we don’t need!

      Also, if you think this will stop carbon fiber and carbon fiber reinforced plastics, you haven’t done your homework.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Is there an ability to make carbon fiber parts in mass quantities? I don’t know so that’s why I’m asking. There would be a great deal of difference between making driver tubs for Indy/F1 cars (and real race cars don’t have fenders) and F-150 frames. Dozens of handcrafted parts, racing car tubs; versus hundreds of thousands of F-150 chassis components are the current differences. Or can the carbon fiber parts manufacturing be automated or semi-automated? Perhaps Ford and GM could enter a partnership to develop them? The current administration would fund that effort. Double bonus points if that partnership would make the Bogan Brain Trust ™ go bonkers.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Ford is partnering with Magna, as stated in the article. GM would have to find its own partnership. The current administration would NOT fund that effort, the companies in question will benefit from funding it themselves. Government funding always comes with strings and management oversight. Companies that can profit themselves prefer to reap the benefits without government participation/interference.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Yes. Machines can and do perform mass production of carbon fiber parts. Look at modern aircraft like the 787. They can be built for similar costs to aluminum.

    • 0 avatar
      BigDuke6

      Why would Ford want to do ANYthing with GM? Maybe to set them back a couple of decades…….? Never going to happen.

      • 0 avatar
        John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

        Lol
        Actually, Ford and GM have been and are continuing to design transmissions and transaxles together.

        So far, their collaboration has been successful, with decent reliability and performance.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          “Actually, Ford and GM have been and are continuing to design transmissions and transaxles together.”

          also known as, “spreading the liability”.

          Hell, even Honda refuses to make or use a decent transmission anymore. It looks like the whole leasing thing has taken over. “Who cares if the tranny grenades at 75K miles, that’ll be someone else’s problem.”

          • 0 avatar
            orick

            Didn’t Honda have transmission problem from way back when? I think it was on accords with V6 engines. Also oddessey had problems too iirc.

        • 0 avatar
          True_Blue

          So far, so good. The ten-speeds are supposedly excellent, especially given their “rigorous intended applications”.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “Why would Ford want to do ANYthing with GM?”

        Because then at least a small part of a Ford product would be reliable?

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      @ el scotto

      No, and that appears to be the main holdup. Carbon fiber reinforced plastics are nearly cheap enough when you consider all of the heavy duty equipment and energy savings, but CFRP requires curing times the manufacturers are not setup to absorb. They can stamp steel parts by the millions, but they don’t have the time or floor space to leave millions of parts curing.

  • avatar
    new2000car

    I think this article was first printed 25 years ago. A few things were tweaked of course.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Moderate engine and trans lube leaks are a far more cost effective approach to frame corrosion. The front crossmember on my old S-10 will live forever! High mileage lubes with seal swellers should be prohibited in regions where winter salt is used.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      Why? In my experience, once the swelling goes down, it’ll leak even more.
      I believe that Lucas stop leak killed my Tempo’s ATX. Turned a tiny little leak into a full blown gusher after a couple months. Started leaking from everywhere.

      I hated an automatic anyway but I really hated having to top it off every week and having a black film form on the back of the car on a road trip.

  • avatar

    I wonder what the potential is for collision repair? Repairing fiber composites is very different to metal. New skills, new costs. If the frame splinters under impact rather than buckle repairs may not even be practical.

    • 0 avatar
      John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

      Who would repair a damaged subframe instead of just replacing it? This is a part that bolts onto the unibody car. This isn’t the “frame” that the separate body sits on that runs from bumper to bumper. Its what some refer to as the engine cradle. On my car, its 4 bolts, I think its the same on my parents Taurus (2012). I was just looking at it when doing an oil change this past week, I didn’t take note of how many places it was attached to, but you can clearly see its removable.

      If it was that hard of an impact, the car is probably totalled anyway. It would almost certainly have multiple airbag deployments, which would also total it out, unless you think replacing the entire dash of an Altima is any more feasible than “repairing” it’s subframe.

      I love how people look for problems where there are none.

      What if stop/start kills my car because its just like a 1976 Aspen and it won’t crank back up? It could happen on a rail road track!
      Big bad corporate America wants to KILL ME!
      No way they would design the system to abort in the event where there were runability problems detected by the PCM. That’s just crazy talk.
      Oh and my oil will freeze in the 12 seconds the engine is off which will explode the crank case! Ahhhh!
      #deathcar

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not a question of looking for problems. It’s looking for solutions to new problems.

        The guy at the body shop who has years of panel beating experience. He/she can’t simply start fixing composites like it’s second nature. It’ll take time for shops to adapt to the new tooling and materials.

        You can make a car using any material you like, the body shops have to catch up too.

        My LEAF has aluminum panels. Some shops are skilled at aluminum repairs some are not. As a consumer I had to find the shop that knew how to do a good job. Not sure who I would go to with composites. Composite repair skills are found in aviation, not automotive.

        New materials, new skills.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          JPWhite,
          Composite repairs are expensive in aviation.

          New repair processes are required for the success of composites in automobiles.

          Structural composite damage can extend a 100+ fold beyond what is visible. If this damage is not repaired correctly it continues to grow, until there is a failure of the structure.

          It will be interesting to see where composites will be used extensively.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree OldManPants that a carbon fiber frame is more about fuel savings and less about corrosion but the same thing can be said about using aluminum in Ford trucks. Get the weight down and put a smaller and lighter engine and components and more fuel efficiency is gained. There is only so much gain that can be made with drive trains.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    “like a spent hull from an Ithaca pump”

    So Canadians call spent shells “hulls”? Googled Ithaca pump and saw a near dead-ringer for the old Winchester Model 12. Didn’t know Ithaca was still extant.

    Their 12-gauge doubles were sweet, well made and balanced duck & goose guns and their 16-gauge double was an excellent beginner’s shotgun.

    But the ones in my family were already *old* by the ’60s.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Don’t tell me they got this idea from safety shoes?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Fuel economy is driving these changes.

    However, weight savings are harder to come by today when you have to equip a car with 10 airbags and all the bling and drivetrain power people demand.

    No mention of price impact to the consumer; it won’t get cheaper, probably.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      Subframes alone on a midsize sedan look from photos like they would weigh, what, 250-350 lbs total excluding the suspension components they support?

      10 airbags have that beat, no?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Cars aren’t heavier because of airbag, they’re heavier because high strength steel is needed to meet crash safety and roof strength standards. There’s also a lot of sound insulation in modern cars that wasn’t used in decades past. The carpet underlayment today is heavier than the felt used in the past – a 2’x4′ sheet weighs 17 lbs.

      People familiar wirth current assembly can tell you what is used in various car body cavities, but it’s definitely not that cheap blown in foam that was used in the 1970s. That stuff dried out and shrank, and became a stiff blob rattling with every bump.

      The extra weight in today’s cars is startling. A 1972 Dodge Monaco with a 360 V8 weighed 3850 lbs., while a current Chrysler 300C with a 345 V8, two feet shorter and four inches narrower, weighs 4350 lbs. That difference is more than just the airbags – and the Chrysler B-pillar STILL can’t take a t-bone collision.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Only care about pickup trucks and Jeeps.
    One strong need with them is the ability to drill, weld, and modify.
    How does that happen with a carbon fiber frame?

    ===========================

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Ford has a composite aluminium vehicle in the GT.

    Ford has bee working with Dow since 2012.

    I would think a large volume vehicle would be chosen as the vehicle of choice for a high composite content production model, except the aluminium wunder trucks.

    Lots of research in the use of comosites in motor vehicles for a decade or so has occurred.

    Composites in aviation has been in use for years.

    This is good work on Fords part. But there are many composite research consortiums in existence for the automotive industry.

  • avatar

    BMW’s i program is ostensibly about EVs but it’s really about gettng the cost of carbon fiber components down to where they can be used for mass production. BMW has billions invested in the supply chain for CFRP.

  • avatar
    wsn

    If rust is the problem, why not use stainless steel? Sure it may cost $10k more at purchase, but almost 100% of that cost can be paid back when it’s being sold or scrapped, because stainless steel is highly sought after.

    • 0 avatar
      oldworntruck

      Actually most stainless isn’t as expensive as you would think…. however it is quite heavy and brittle depending on which stainless you are using.
      The problem with stainless is stress cracking in something like an automotive sub frame assembly. It typically doesn’t handle shock loads or vibration all that well unless special heat or cryogenic treatments are applied and that gets very expensive

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        oldworntruck – – –

        You are absolutely correct. Chloride ions from use of salt on the highways cause something called “stress-corrosion cracking” in stainless steels (SS).

        When I was working in the abrasives industry years ago, we could not use halide-based grinding accelerants on SS for that very reason.

        ====================

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    Ah, the Ithaca Model 37. That’s a burly bear. I believe you can “slam-fire” these by depressing the trigger and cycling the action.

    In 2017, having a 12-gauge named after one of the more liberal regions in New York is fairly ironic. But those 37s are plenty tough.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      I read up on it a bit. It’s action was designed by, guess who, John Browning and it was introduced to compete with the Winchester Model 12.

      Cool thing is that it both loads and ejects from the same bottom port so it’s left/right hand agnostic. As a lifelong Model 12 devotee I must now try a 37.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • akear: Hackett is turning out to be as loathsome as I thought he would. At least Fields had a vision for the future....
  • akear: Have you noticed just about all the Japanese car makers produce better sedans than Detroit. GM what a disgrace!
  • Ltd1983: You should actually visit Charleston sometime. It might be in SC, but it’s full of latte-sipping,...
  • threeer: So maybe some of that $300 Billion (plus) trade deficit we “enjoy” with China year over year is...
  • Penguinlord: “All work, and no play? Give Jack a Mighty Boy!” Unfortunately for my slogan, this thing...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States