Ford has laid claim as the first major automaker to mass produce carbon fiber wheels as standard equipment for a production vehicle. Ford teamed up with Australian supplier Carbon Revolution to craft the wheels for Shelby GT350R Mustang. The wheels reduce rotational inertia by more than 40 percent, which positively impacts acceleration and braking performance. By using carbon fiber, Ford and Carbon Revolution were also able to cut the weight of each wheel nearly in half.
“The carbon fiber wheels reduce [the overall] vehicle weight by 60 pounds compared to aluminum, yet are stiffer for better steering response,” said Adam Wirth, chassis supervisor for Ford Performance.
Manufacturing the wheels begins with the creation of the preformed internal carbon structure, composed of manufactured carbon strands arrayed into woven fabrics. The elements are then placed into a mold. An RFID chip is embedded in this structure, and each wheel is individually entered into a quality assurance system. After assembly, the structure is infused with resin and hardens at high temperatures in an autoclave.
According to Ford, the wheels of every one of their vehicles endure durability tests that include curb strikes, UV and chemical exposure, and high heat testing. In order to be production-ready, the GT350R wheels would need to prove it can handle extreme conditions. During track testing for the Shelby GT350R Mustang, break temperature measurements revealed rotor temperatures higher than 900 degrees Celsius.
As a result, the wheel design had to be elevated from a road car specification to a thermal standard used more often in sports cars. Carbon Revolution implemented a coating system that uses a multistage, multi-material coating formulation that provides an excellent thermal barrier. Similar technology has been used in the past for NASA’s Space Shuttle.
“The GT350R wheels and tires were developed to be the most track-capable parts we’ve ever produced,” said Wirth.
The only other automaker to date to offer optional carbon fiber wheels at the same level of production is supercar-maker Koenigsegg.
“We believe this is a game changer for the industry,” said Wirth. “[It is] a great example of improved performance through innovation.”