Carbon fiber isn’t just for airplanes anymore. More and more automakers are turning to carbon fiber when designing new cars to reduce vehicle weight, improve fuel economy and contribute to safety. The roof and hood of the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray are made with carbon fiber. BMW uses carbon fiber in the passenger frame of its high production i3 electric car. And Ford has partnered with The Dow Chemical Company use carbon fiber in more of their car parts.
Carbon fiber is known for being strong and light. In fact, it can be up to ten times stronger than steel and four times lighter. It’s resistant to chemicals and can withstand high temperatures and is already regularly used in a number of things, from sporting equipment to wind energy turbines to military equipment to America’s Cup racing boats. Carbon fiber is typically combined with plastics to provide the properties needed for aerospace and automotive usage. This combination results in materials with exceptional strength and durability, qualities much desired by automakers.
In the recent past, auto components made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics, or CFRP, were favored mostly by luxury or performance cars due to their high manufacturing costs. Now that many more automakers are investing more heavily in CFRP, costs are coming down. Additionally, new technologies are enabling these components to be produced more efficiently. CFRP auto components include chassis, spoilers, roofs, hoods and many internal and external parts. When made out of CFRP, these parts can help make cars lighter, greatly contributing to fuel economy. Just a 10 percent reduction in vehicle weight can increase fuel efficiency 6 to 8 percent over the life of today’s cars. CFRP auto components also can have a higher “energy-absorption” rate than steel, which can contribute to improved safety in a collision. Many safety advances in today’s cars originate from developments on the racetrack; today’s high-speed racecars are made mostly with CFRP to reduce weight and improve safety. While we may not all drive on a racetrack or even own a luxury vehicle, the benefits of CFRP will soon be available to everyone on the road.