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Ford Plants to Boost Use of Carbon Fiber

Lightweight material could play major role in tomorrow’s cars.

by on Apr.20, 2015

The new Ford GT makes extensive us of carbon fiber.

When Ford’s new GT supercar makes its way into production next year it will make extensive use of super-light carbon fiber.

Until now, advanced composites have had only limited application in the auto industry because of their cost and the manufacturing challenges they pose. But as part of a new joint venture, Ford says it hopes to find ways to put carbon fiber into more mainstream applications going forward.

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“Automotive manufacturers’ use of carbon fiber composites has been hindered by the absence of both high-volume manufacturing methods and affordable material formats,” said Mehmet Ali Berkman, vice chairman of DowAska, which is itself a partnership of Dow Chemical and the Turkish firm Aksa Akrilik Kimya Sanayii.

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Ford Unveils Ultra-Light Fusion Sedan Concept

Prototype could influence future Fusion and other models.

by on Jun.04, 2014

Ford's Lightweight Concept could foretell changes to come in the maker's line-up.

When Ford’s new F-150 pickup comes to market later this year it will shed as much as 700 pounds, a move that is expected to yield significant improvements in both performance and fuel economy. And now, the automaker is hinting it has even more aggressive plans in mind for a future version of its popular midsize model, the Fusion.

The Detroit maker is showing off a new, super-light version of the sedan that makes use of aluminum and other materials to drop a full 800 pounds compared to the current Fusion. And though there are no immediate plans to put the prototype into production, it will influence future product development programs.

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Part of Ford’s so-called Blueprint for Sustainability, the project reflects a growing focus on lightweighting, the auto industry’s way of saying that vehicles have to go on a diet if manufacturers hope to meet the tough new fuel economy standards coming into effect in the U.S. over the next decade, as well as stiffer CO2 emissions rules in Europe. The good news for consumers is that by reducing weight a vehicle like the Fusion won’t necessarily have to be downsized to achieve significant improvements in mileage.

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Feds to Fund New Lightweight Metals Manufacturing Project in Detroit

Auto industry likely a key beneficiary.

by on Feb.24, 2014

Ford's new F-150 will be up to 700 pounds lighter than the outgoing pickup truck. Photo credit: Len Katz.

President Barack Obama is expected to announce a new, $140 million project meant to speed the development of new lightweight metals and other materials. Based in suburban Detroit, the project will be backed by the Defense Department, though it should have a serious impact on the auto industry’s efforts to reduce vehicle mass and improve fuel economy.

Dubbed the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation – or LM3I – it will be one of a number of new institutions intended to help boost the performance of the U.S. manufacturing sector, according to a statement by the White House.  The project is expected to receive $70 million in federal funding with a matching $70 million coming from other sources.

By some estimates, the new manufacturing institute could eventually result in the creation of up to 10,000 new jobs.

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A total of 34 companies, 9 universities and 17 other groups – including ALCOA, GE, Honda, the Universities of Michigan and Kentucky, and the American Foundry Society — will participate in the project which will “focus on lightweight and modern metals manufacturing,” according to the White House.

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Australian Firm Aims to Reinvent the Wheel

But this better mousetrap isn't cheap.

by on Nov.12, 2012

A Carbon Revolution wheel for a Porsche 911.

A small Australian firm wants to reinvent the wheel.

Known as Carbon Revolution, the firm has developed what it claims to be the world’s first one-piece carbon fiber wheels.  Super-light but extremely costly, CF is seen by many as the material of the future, at least for the auto industry. And the wheels offer many, if not more, advantages  than using carbon fiber for automotive body panels and chasses.

The Australian start-up is pitching the wheels as a durable, light alternative to traditional aluminum alloy wheels. There is, of course, a trade-off at about $15,000 for a set of four. But company officials insist that if they can get their technology into mass production prices could plunge to a point where the carbon fiber technology could be competitive on mid-range luxury models or even more mainstream vehicles.

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During a recent demonstration of the new technology, Carbon Revolution CEO Jake Dingle and Design Director Ashley Danmead demonstrated a pair of new wheels crafted for use on the latest Porsche 911.  At barely 15 pounds for the front wheels and less than 18 pounds for the back, they weigh in at about 11 to 13 pounds less than Porsche’s stock wheels.

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GM Hopes to Take Carbon Fiber to the Masses

Joins BMW, others looking to commercialize high-tech material.

by on Dec.09, 2011

GM found a variety of applications for carbon fiber on the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Carbon Limited Edition. Now it wants to mass produce the lightweight material.

General Motors hopes to bring the cost of one of the most promising space-age materials down to Earth.

Like a growing number of competitors, the U.S. giant believes there’s great potential for super-strong, ultra-light carbon fiber. And it has entered into a new joint venture it is betting will make it commercially feasible to bring to the mainstream market a material that traditionally only supercar makers could afford to use.

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Dubbing carbon fiber-reinforced plastics, or CFRP, a “game changer,” GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky inked a co-development deal with Japan’s Teijin Limited, a group of 150 companies focused largely on the use of advanced materials.

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Will New Mileage Rules Force Shift from Steel to Carbon Fiber?

Survey says industry leaders expect more changes in the basic automotive building blocks.

by on Aug.02, 2011

Lamborghini is making "heavy" use of lightweight carbon fiber for the new Aventador super car.

With only minor exception, today’s cars are made out of the same building blocks as Henry Ford’s Model T.  Sure, the wooden floor boards are gone and there’s a lot more plastic – with a bit of aluminum and magnesium thrown in — but today’s cars continue to rely on steel, glass and rubber for the majority of their mass.  And mass is going to be one of the biggest enemies as the industry aims to meet the new federal fuel economy standards.

Getting to 54.5 mpg will require major changes in every aspect of automotive design, industry leaders stress, with a heavy emphasis on what’s under the hood.  But a new study finds that the mileage mandates will likely trigger a material revolution, as well.

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“Clearly CAFE regulations have confronted the industry, but they’ve also driven focus around technology needs, material demands and cost issues,” said David Glasscock, global automotive technology director for DuPont Automotive, which commissioned the new study.

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Mini Exploring Carbon Fiber Applications with Rocketman Concept

Show car makes extensive use of weight-saving composites.

by on Mar.03, 2011

The Mini Rocketman concept uses a strong, super-light carbon fiber spaceframe.

Mini’s newest concept vehicle could help it rocket into the future by showing the brand the potential for ultra-lightweight carbon fiber.

The Mini Rocketman concept vehicle, unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show is nearly the smallest vehicle the British maker has ever come up with, just inches longer than the original Mini crafted by Sir Alex Issigonis a half century ago.  But it’s also a very different and much more modern vehicle, company officials stressed.

There is the high-tech infotainment system that has become the requisite on today’s show cars.  But perhaps more significantly, the Mini Rocketman uses a carbon spaceframe to keep the vehicle small, light and roomy.

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“It captures the spirit of originality” pioneered by Sir Alex, proclaimed Ian Robertson, the BMW AG Board Member who also supervises Mini sales and marketing, during the British marque’s Geneva news conference. (For more on the Mini Rocketman itself, Click Here.)

In a subsequent interview with TheDetroitBureau.com, Robertson emphasized the interest of both Mini and BMW in the use of carbon fiber.  The German parent company has, in fact, has “invested heavily” in recent years to improve the technology and expand its production.

The Lamborghini Aventador also goes with carbon fiber for its underlying monocoque.

The material “has a number of elements” that are attractive, including its tremendous strength – many times greater than steel, pound-for-pound – and light weight.  That’s particularly attractive for Mini, a brand that has put an emphasis on sustainability.

That said, Robertson cautioned that carbon fiber is still extremely expensive to produce, which may make it difficult to introduce in the relatively mainstream price segments where Mini competes.

Indeed, today, carbon fiber is largely limited to some of the most expensive products on the road, such as the all-new, $350,000 Lamborghini Aventador, which also was introduced at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show (Find out more – Click Here.) Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winklemann told TheDetroitBureau.com that cost considerations likely limit the use of carbon fiber on other Lamborghini products.

But the spate of research underway has some experts betting that carbon fiber can move down-market in the coming years.  Toyota, for example, has been exploring ways to use the company’s historical ties to the textile industry to “weave” carbon fiber, instead of using traditional hand-production processes.  And BMW is also making strides towards mass production.

What could drive demand for the material is the industry’s move into electrification.  Vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt carry 100s of pounds of lithium-ion batteries onboard, and carbon fiber, said BMW’s Robertson, may be needed “as a trade-off to offset heavy batteries. Carbon fiber,” he concluded, “has a significant role to play in the development of motor vehicles in the future.”

Lightweighting: Getting The Lead and Steel And Cast Iron Out Of Tomorrow’s Cars.

Material mix best way to cut weight, think tank president says.

by on Aug.12, 2010

"To add speed, add lightness," said legendary car driver and designer Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus.

The late Colin Chapman, the revered race car and sports car designer, is often credited with the quote “To add speed, add lightness.” If he were alive today, he’d likely put more emphasis on that maxim than ever as a central tenet in the push for better fuel efficiency.
Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, was known for his clever techniques to reduce weight in both his race cars and road cars. His belief was that a light car could beat more powerful ones because its chassis would handle better. And he was right. Lotus won seven Formula One Constructor titles under Chapman.

Today’s automakers face a far different challenge than Chapman. Instead of speed, auto companies are working furiously to increase fuel economy, but most of the work is focused on more efficient powertrains, not reducing weight.

Jay Baron is amongst those who think they’re making a mistake. Baron, president and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said reducing weight might be even more important than increasing powertrain efficiency because no one knows what powertrain technology will win out, but lighter vehicles will help with efficiency no matter what is powering the car.

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A primary way to save weight is using lighter materials. Baron said there are essentially five materials in play here:
• mild steel, which is the predominate material in most cars, costing about 30 to 50 cents per pound.
• high-strength steel, which is about double the cost of mild steel but can be made thinner to provide the same strength.
• aluminum, which costs about $1.50 per pound, but is significantly lighter than steel. Besides the cost disadvantage, it’s more difficult to form and weld.
• plastics, while the prices vary wildly based on material and purpose, plastic is far more expensive than other materials and takes longer to mold.
• magnesium is another material finding its way into vehicles, but it is even more expensive than aluminum.

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