Ford also will use CFRP in a mass-produced car, offering CFRP wheels as a standard feature on its Shelby GT350R Mustang. The one-piece wheel is half the weight of an equivalent aluminum wheel (18 pounds versus 33 pounds). Australia’s Carbon Revolution worked with Ford to develop the wheel, which includes a thermal barrier coating and a special durability coating to resist corrosion. The team also developed several new processes to produce the wheels’ high-gloss black finish.

GT350R Carbon Fiber Wheels

Wheels on the new mass-produced Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang are made from CFRP, which cuts the weight in half compared to aluminum. Photo Credit: Ford Motor Co.

Carbon Revolution manufactures the wheels by placing fabrics woven with carbon fibers into a mold, infusing the mold with resin and then curing it at high temperatures. The resulting one-piece wheel ensures maximum strength and eliminates the need to bond or glue the wheel’s spokes and barrel components together.

The GT350R also features an injection-molded, CFRP grill opening reinforcement (GOR). Although the material costs are higher than lightweight steel or aluminum, composites reduce weight and can be formed into a single part. The capital expenditure is less overall because instead of 15 stamped parts that require joining, the GOR is made in one piece with a single tool.

Ford is pressing ahead with carbon fiber on other fronts as well. In April it signed a joint development agreement with DowAksa to advance research on high-volume, automotive-grade carbon fiber. The goal is to produce cost-effective composite parts that are much lighter than steel, but also meet automotive strength requirements.

BMW: Building Composite & Metal Hybrids

Building on the carbon fiber technology introduced in the BMW i vehicles, the German automaker’s new Series 7 luxury sedans feature a lightweight body structure with elements of CFRP, ultra-high tensile steel and aluminum. According to BMW, the combination increases the strength and rigidity of the vehicle’s passenger shell while substantially reducing weight (up to 287 pounds). BMW incorporated CFRP in the B and C pillars, rocker panels, roof bows and rails, transmission tunnel and rear deck.

BMW is producing the Series 7 at its Plant Dingolfing, using wet pressing for components made only with carbon fiber. For hybrid parts, the pressing process involves impregnating carbon fiber fabrics with resin before placing them, still wet, in a molding die with steel sheet. The two materials are then pressed and hardened, combining them into a hybrid component.