By on April 21, 2018

Image: Magna

By the end of the year, you’ll know whether your next front-drive, non-supercar Ford might contain a carbon fiber cradle for its engine. As promised, supplier Magna has delivered a carbon fiber composite subframe prototype to Dearborn, destined for a rigorous life in a Fusion testbed.

There’ll be calculators working overtime as Ford engineers and bean counters figure out whether the lightweight, parts-saving component has a place in the brand’s stable.

Magna first revealed its plans for the co-developed subframe in March 2017. While this isn’t the first time Ford tapped the supplier’s carbon fiber expertise, there’s a vast mass and price difference between the grille opening reinforcement on a pricey model like the Shelby GT500 and a subframe bound for a conventional passenger car.

The supplier’s prototype reduces subframe mass by 34 percent over its steel counterpart. Comprising two molded and four metal parts, the structure replaces 45 steel parts found in a typical Fusion subframe.

“We delivered a series of parts to the customer at the end of last year, and they’ve already started component testing,” Andrew Swikoski, Magna’s global product line director for lightweight composites, told Automotive News. “By the end of the year, we’ll know whether the technology is ready for production or not.”

Swikoski didn’t fully break down the economics of using the pricey material, though he implied Ford customers wouldn’t see a diamond-encrusted markup on the price of a new vehicle. Using Magna’s subframe would cut tooling costs by 30 to 40 percent, he said, and Magna sought to further reduce expense by using several materials in the composite.

Crash testing could be a determining factor in whether the component gets the green light. “It’s not meant to be a primary crash absorber,” Swikoski said, adding that, as the subframe only absorbs 5 percent of a crash’s energy, Ford will rely on the subframe’s steel surroundings for cushioning.

[Image: Magna]

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43 Comments on “It’s Decision Time for Ford’s Carbon Fiber Subframe...”


  • avatar
    MBella

    Crash absorbtion was my first concern when I started reading this, and it seems that Ford has the same concern. The front subframe is one of the main components in the front crash structure. It will be interesting to see what the crash testing results will be with this.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      “Crash testing could be a determining factor in whether the component gets the green light. “It’s not meant to be a primary crash absorber,” Swikoski said, adding that, as the subframe only absorbs 5 percent of a crash’s energy, Ford will rely on the subframe’s steel surroundings for cushioning.”

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Pretty sure MBella got that, his response is simply stating that he had the same concerns and is therefore interested in the results.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        It is unclear whether they’re saying that a CC subframe only absorbs 5% of the energy, or , generally, all subframes do. What you will have is a piece that will either shatter with sharp shards, or be pushed back as a single unit after being hit. I’d be interested to see how they deal with this.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      F1 cars seem to do pretty well in crash tests using carbon fiber construction.

      • 0 avatar
        conundrum

        They do, but they use real carbon fibre with properly aligned weaves, not a molded short fiber matrix like this subframe. F1 crashes also produce shards of sharp debris from the “exploded” material. We were using carbon fibre chassis’ in 1/8 RC car racing before 1985. It blew apart on crashes; back to aluminum.

        Man has never cured the common cold and man has neved really found a way to make the best carbon fibre cheaply in quantity. There’s been a so-far incurable itch that CF is so wonderful, for no reason other than its supposed strength, billions should be spent on it. Except for BMW, nobody really seems to have the hang of it for semi-economic use, and they have invested hundreds of millions in its production, producing both the cheap and expensive variations.

        It’s the material that’s nevef quite made it. For decades.

        • 0 avatar
          bunkie

          Aerospace begs to differ. Granted that’s not a mass-market application, but it is one where CF plays a big role.

          • 0 avatar
            Yuppie

            Carbon fiber use for road bike frames, forks, and other parts is a semi-economic (@conundrum) and mass market (@bunkie) application. But crashworthiness does not seem to be a huge factor.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        F1 depend on the cell around the driver being rigid. The other safety equipment keeps the crash forces from killing the drivers. In a street car, the crash structure is what absorbs the impact.

        • 0 avatar
          Lockstops

          I thought that the main issue is that carbon fibre gives way suddenly and once. Damage means the strength is gone.

          This has implications in long-term road use where any long-term stress is absorbed well by the ‘give’ in metal parts, with them bending slightly, and if a metal part gets slightly damaged it still functions pretty well. Whereas carbon fibre doesn’t have give, and when damaged loses its strength to absorb any later major impact.

          • 0 avatar
            anomaly149

            Lockstops, one of the biggest issues is actually cycle time. We can overcome damageability and durability issues with the right geometry, but if you can’t produce CF parts fast enough, you’ll never go to production.

            That’s why almost no one does sheet carbon fiber layups, but some are starting to do this sort of short-chain injection molded stuff. You have to be able to be able to support a line that goes 40 jobs an hour (slow mass market line) up to 70 (high mover).

            A layup that takes a few hours in an autoclave will require a staggering infrastructure and tooling bill. A very large injection mold tool, with enough cavities, is much faster.

  • avatar

    Could carbon fiber subframes be responsible for poor crash scores for the Escape?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Absolutely, since this article indicates that it is in a testing/pre-production phase and has yet to be implemented in a production Ford.

      Just like when Mazda fixes rusting issues on new(er) generation cars, its a complete failure simply because the *old* generation cars still rust.

  • avatar
    gmichaelj

    “The supplier’s prototype reduces subframe mass by 34 percent over its steel counterpart. Comprising two molded and four metal parts…”

    So how many pounds does this translate to?

    How much does the structure cost to make?

    Without even ballpark estimates of a cost benefit analysis, the article seems pretty pointless

  • avatar
    gtem

    On the one hand eliminating a potential for a rusted out subframe sounds nice. (just saw an 09 Milan get one replaced by my brothers buddy). But will this new carbon fiber unit be able to be used as a jacking point?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I get the rusted sub-frame. My ’92 Sable had the right rear mount on the engine cradle rust out around the rubber mount. Seems when it does not get rainwater, it gets A/C condensate – so it is wet most of the time. But to be fair, it lasted 18 or so years before it rotted through. Same also happened to the rear suspension locating links. At 20 years the washers that compressed the rubber rotted away, leaving the rear tire rubbing against the rear of the wheel well. Luckily I was less than a mile from home. What would it have cost to use a hot-dipped galvanized piece of hardware?

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      gtem,
      You’ll find it will most likely be designed with jacking in mind. There will most likely be metal reinforcement at the jacking points.

      As with most composite structures it will also require strengthening near areas of load. Even where a bearing (bush or whatever) is located a metal housing will need to be used.

      Don’t view this in the same fashion as a composite panel.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      This was my thought. . Any a car went to the scrap yard when I lived in the rust belt over this and I have passed on many a project lately because the subframe looked like James Cameron dragged it up from the Titanic.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      Aluminum would do the trick too.

  • avatar
    Trucky McTruckface

    Shouldn’t Ford be deciding whether or not they’re still going to sell front drive cars in North America first? Because besides that new Chinese Focus that’s eventually making its way over here, nothing else is in the pipeline. Seems kind of pointless, no?

    Speaking of Chinese Foci, I’m glad to see that Ford has it’s cost-cutting priorities straight. American manufacturing jobs versus carbon fiber front subframes of dubious crashworthiness. Makes perfect sense.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    My only concern would be that front subframes are often subject to direct impacts from rocks, curbs, and road hazards. What would just be a bend and a scrape on a steel subframe would probably break a plastic one.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Magna is not Lockheed, Ford is not Boeing, and Fusion customers do not have the “cost is no object” mentality of the Air Force. Pardon me for being skeptical that these frames will get the thorough testing they should and will not be put into production without compromises that will be borne by the customers.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Lab/materials testing and applied demo testing can only go so far, and come nowhere near the range of real world experience. For that you need beta testers in large numbers testing in a wide variety of conditions. Who else but paying customers are available?

  • avatar
    TW5

    Not sure about using carbon fiber as a stressed structure. How about using it first for the hood, trunk lid, doors, etc?

    • 0 avatar
      jfb43

      Wheels are a stressed structure and carbon fiber wheels seem to do fine on the GT-350.

      The point of making a subframe out of it is, as the article said, to reduce components, which will hopefully make up some of the added cost of using carbon fiber. Plus, body panels are already made of carbon fiber on mass-produced vehicles. I don’t know if a CF subframe will be viable, but without experimentation, we’d never advance.

  • avatar
    nvinen

    How much will this add to the repair costs when the driver is too busy texting to notice the car in front of them has stopped?

  • avatar
    nlinesk8s

    The fun will be all the people, a few years down the road, when the warning labels are gone, splitting frames in half with a floor jack. I’m sure the cost to replace the subframe will scrap the car.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    I don’t see how this could be justified in smaller vehicles (given their generally lower profit margins).

    You’d get more bang for the (lower weight) buck by starting with the F150 instead of a Fusion. But even that probably not justified given

    a) new CAFE uncertainty.
    b) the statist class finally figuring out that Peak Oil = Flat Earth.
    c) lack of clear marketing strategy for this feature. How much will Fusion buyers be swayed by NOT having to think about a rotting engine cradle in 5 years?!?

    Maybe aluminum makes sense – given Ford’s engineering investment in that area.

  • avatar
    Aron9000

    I’m thinking of how many cars will be written off because they drove over a curb and cracked the composite subframe. Or just a minor front end collison.

    Not to mention all the “Bubbas” of the world at the Firestone tire store breaking it with a floor jack.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Good idea, terrible position. I’d imagine they’d want to use carbon fiber in rigid components like the firewall or A-pillar. Or non-structural/low impact chance components like the frame behind the rear seat, the gas tank, the cabin floor etc.

    I think another interesting place for CF would be in suspension components. Knuckles and lower control arms seem like obvious starting points as the unsprung weight and NVH control potential could pay serious ride quality dividends.

  • avatar
    TheEndlessEnigma

    Setting: Ford Dealer Service Department

    Service Advisor: Well sir, we found the issue with your harsh engine vibrations, you have a crack in your engine cradle.

    Customer: Ok, wonderful……so you can weld that right? How much will it cost?

    Service Advisor: Err…well….Ford decided that a 20 lb weight reduce would be a fabulous idea so your engine cradle is carbon fiber….you can’t weld that.

    Customer: Errr…….?

    Service Advisor: So we have to replace the engine cradle…which means removing the engine, transaxle, cooling system….Sir, we have to disassemble your engine compartment.

    Customer: Great…wonderful….fabulous. How much will that cost?

    Service Advisor: Well…sir….I see by your paperwork here you *JUST* drove out of warranty. Do you by any chance have a personal relationship with your mortgage banker? 2nd mortgages are awesome!

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      Field repair of composites is even easier than steel.

      The service manual will have templates for repair of each location. The technician will clean the subframe and the crack out, cut the cloth to the templates, apply the resin, put the vacuum bag around it, clamp it on vacuum for a specified number of minutes, unwrap it, and leave the car in the parking lot to cure for a specified number of hours.

      • 0 avatar
        TheEndlessEnigma

        And I, as a consumer, will avoid that product. But the, since Ford has decided to stop producing cars Ford will lose me as a customer. There’s a reason I don’t drive or own a CUV/SUV/Truck. I can afford one of those things but I do not want one of those things.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    >It’s Decision Time for Ford’s Carbon Fiber Subframe

    If the result of that decision is positive, it may inspire Ford to apply carbon fiber to other parts of the car…such as engines and transmissions.

    No thanks. I’ll pass and stick with the actual metals for the time being until I’m dead or the ICE is dead – whichever comes first.

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