Composites have a place in the conversation on lightweighting vehicles and improving fuel standards, but how can the composites industry lead the conversation? Chris Red, principal of Composites Forecasts & Consulting, gave the facts on the future of composites in the automotive market during the educational session, “The Automotive Market: Where It’s Going and What’s Needed?”

Currently, Japan and the European Union (EU) hold stringent standards on fuel efficiency. The EU severely penalizes OEMs for exceeding these standards, issuing fines of €95 ($123) per g/km per vehicle, which could exceed €15,000 (approximately $24,000). The Euro 6 Standards are also curbing large diesel commercial vehicle emissions.

China and North America currently lag behind these standards, but hope to match them. Permissible emissions are expected to drop by one-third by 2025 in the U.S. CAFE standards are targeting a highway fuel efficiency standard of 61 mpg, and would fine OEMs $5.50 for every 0.1 mpg below that standard.

Red said a vehicle’s weight contributes 20 to 25 percent of its fuel economy, and 50 to 70 percent of weight reduction potential lies in the frame, suspension and body. He also said that we can if we save 250 pounds in the chassis, a “spiral effect” can take the weight down by 750 pounds by then saving weight in the drivetrain, engine, suspension and brakes. This is where composite materials can come into play.

Carbon fiber demand in the automotive industry is expected to skyrocket into 2022, far above aerospace, industrial applications and sports/consumer applications. But there’s still a long way to go: While advanced composites in automotive grew from 13 million pounds in 2012 to 23 million pounds in 2013, raw carbon fiber still only comprises 0.005 percent of raw materials in automotive industry. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive material, ranging from $35 to $175 per pound. The industry would also need to scale up its current manufacturing capabilities; right now it cannot produce mid-volume demand vehicles quickly enough using carbon fibers to meet demand. Though the composites industry still faces challenges in cost and production for the automotive market, not meeting emission standards will be costly for both OEMs and consumers.