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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.


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, 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 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.”

VW Tops 250 MPG With XL1 Concept

Who cares about fuel prices.

by on Jan.27, 2011

Using lightweight materials, slick aerodynamics and a diesel-hybrid, VW's XL1 achieves 250 mpg.

You could dole fuel out with an eyedropper and ignore the latest pump prices were the Volkswagen XL1 sitting in your driveway.  The newest VW concept vehicle claims a fuel economy of a seemingly impossible 250 miles per gallon.

Unveiled at this week’s Qatar Motor Show, the prototype uses a variety of techniques to reduce weight and minimize wind resistance, while turning to a plug-in diesel-hybrid powertrain to squeeze out every last bit of energy.

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Among the various steps taken to improve aerodynamics are a closed front end, extensive underbody covers, closed wheels and pin-sized cameras that replace conventional sideview mirrors.  The VW XL1 yields a drag coefficient of just 0.19, compared to 0.25 for the relatively slick Toyota Prius.

There’s less than 400 pounds of steel or iron on the XL1.  The chassis is a monocoque made of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic, or CFRP, a material normally found on extremely low-volume supercars, such as the Lamborghini Sesto.  That and other lightweight materials, such as aluminum and magnesium, and the ceramics of the prototypes brakes, and VW has been able to hold the mass of the XL1 down to just 1,749 pounds.