By on October 16, 2014

2014 BMW i8 04

Though carbon fiber is being used more extensively in new vehicles, the high costs associated with building a vehicle out of the material have kept it to the likes of the Lexus LFA and BMW i Series. This could soon change, however.

Bloomberg reports MAI Carbon Cluster Management GmbH, with financial backing from BMW, Audi, Airbus, Siemens and around 70 other manufacturers, have made progress on reducing the cost of carbon fiber, with the goal of slashing 90 percent of the total cost. Klaus Drechler, head of the €80 million ($102 million USD) project, as well as professor at the Technical University of Munich, explains:

We’ve certainly reached a halfway point on our cost-cutting target for suitable carbon-fiber parts. We’ll see a lot more carbon-fiber use in the next generation of cars. The key is to really drive automation [in production]. There are different scenarios about how carmakers can use carbon fiber — extensively like BMW, with a carbon-fiber chassis, or with smaller components.

Similar cost-reduction efforts are being carried out in the United States at the Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The consortium, established in 2011, has partnered with Ford, Dow Chemical and other companies in developing lower-cost carbon fiber materials.

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13 Comments on “Projects In Germany, US Closer To Low-Cost Carbon Fiber Manufacturing...”

  • avatar

    The cost, even with a 90% reduction, is still going to be expensive, and limited to high end cars. I can see carbon fiber replacing plastic parts that get brittle with age, but what about durability and repairability of structural sections?

    It’s actually about weight reduction, required by stringent government regulations. The money might have been better spent buying politicians. That’s what Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Steel did in the old days – and there have never been more craven politicians for sale than today!

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      CF wouldn’t replace plastic parts. If a part is strong enough using cheaper plastics, there’s no point making it out of carbon fiber composites (other than aesthetics).

      Contrary to popular belief, CF structures are repairable. It is a different skill set from pressed steel, so I expect that only a few shops will make the investment in training and equipment. The same goes for aluminum.

      I’m looking forward to frames that don’t rust. You can replace anything else on a car, but a rusted frame is terminal.

      • 0 avatar

        You’ve never had a plastic water pump impeller shatter and roast an engine.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          No, I personally haven’t. But I’ve seen it happen.

          How is this related to carbon fiber?

          Plastic water pump impellers are used because they are bit cheaper to manufacture than aluminum, not because they are lighter and/or stronger. Carbon fiber is used because it is lighter and/or stronger (or because people are nostalgic of the Fast and Furious ricer look).

      • 0 avatar


        Jeep folks say otherwise. But we’re a special kind of crazy.

  • avatar

    I am eager to see CF get to a point where it’s affordable enough for widespread use in cars. I believe that it–unlike the Fusion–could truly be a game changer.

    I’ve had various CF parts for my bikes over the years (and have a CF frame, too). Often, those parts are similarly priced to higher-end aluminum parts, but I’m sure that it’s a completely different ball game for cars.

    • 0 avatar

      The fun part with CF will in damage situations – as in, how do you tell if the CF part has been damaged to the point of total failure? Assuming it hasn’t visually failed already?

      While I’m not a believer in all the horror stories of CF bike frames (admittedly, I’m a steel guy, the closest I’ve ridden was an aluminum frame with CF fork and rear stays), I can still appreciate being able to unbend steel frames and forks, and know they’re still going to be functioning.

      • 0 avatar

        “I can still appreciate being able to unbend steel frames and forks, and know they’re still going to be functioning.”

        This reminds me of something I always ask about the “exciting” future of CF automobiles and that’s recyclability? Vehicles made mostly from metal can be recycled fairly well and cheaply but a CF car (how do you recycle CF? Burn it until its just carbon powder again?) doesn’t seem so easily recycled.

        Somehow I imagine a future with CF autos being like the issue we have today with worn out tires. Entire landfills or junkyards filled with old carbon fiber hulks that cannot be readily dealt with.

      • 0 avatar

        Probably similar to assessing the crash worthiness of a steel car with unknown degree of corrosion in structural parts…

  • avatar

    I wonder about people who announce they will “soon have a breakthrough.” Other than looking for investors what is the point?

  • avatar

    The carbon fiber must be cast rather than laid up by hand.

    • 0 avatar

      Or if not cast (which is typically heavy and hard to manage the composite structure) then at least laid up automatically. Lexus’ LFA loom was a super cool example of this.

      When you can use Carbon as easily as they use Glass today, you’ll start to see the shift in mass-market stuff.

  • avatar

    Carbon fiber is already present in small doses in mainstream cars. Mercedes ML, GL, and R classes have carbon fiber subfloors that cover the battery compartments in front of the front passenger seats. It’s very thin and unbelievably strong. It will trickle down to more and more applications.

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