At the 2016 SAE World Congress in Detroit, Toyota and Clemson University unveiled “uBox” – an urban utility, futuristic concept vehicle made with composites. The uBox was the result of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America asking 18 graduate students at Clemson University to produce a vehicle that would appeal to the young, urban buyers of Generation Z.

The uBox is the sixth concept car in the Deep Orange series – a collaboration between graduate automotive engineering students at Clemson University, transportation design students at the ArtCenter College of Design and auto industry partners – including GM in 2015 and Dow in 2014.

According to Clemson, the team used high-strength composites to integrate the vehicle’s non-structural dashboard with the structure of the vehicle’s body, which reduced weight, minimized part count and simplified assembly. A major part of what made that possible was the carbon fabrics provided by TeXtreme®, which were used in the vehicle’s door panels, rear hatch, dashboard, bumpers and cladding.

“With our exposed CFRP interior components on Deep Orange 6, it was a high priority to use a woven carbon fiber fabric with a unique weave pattern. Textreme’s materials exceeded our expectations, as it has given us a beautiful finish on the interior, is a high quality product that is easy to lay up without distorting the weave, and the spread tow tapes leave a very smooth finish on the final part,” said Dr. Johnell Brooks, an associate professor in Clemson University’s graduate Department of Automotive Engineering.

The vehicle’s roof rail was also made with high-strength, curved, composite pultrusions that can be mass manufactured at low cost.

“The roof pultrusion was something unexpected and very interesting when they first started talking about the concept,” said Greg Payne, a Toyota project manager who worked with the students. “The fact that they were able to achieve an industry-first manufacturing technique as students speaks volumes for this program.”

One of the biggest issues for the composites industry has been figuring out how to bridge the gap between industry and academia. Paul Venhovens, the endowed chair for automotive systems integration at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR), suggested that this project could serve as an example of how that challenge can be tackled.

“[Toyota] constantly challenged the students with justifying their design and engineering decisions based on the Toyota brand essence, real-world customers and what the students believed the future would embrace. This experience can simply not be gained from a textbook,” said Venhovens.