Two automakers share their vision for composites growth in the industry.

Global sales of passenger cars are forecast to reach 77.7 million vehicles this year, according to the statistics internet portal Statista. The company adds that 6.9 million passenger cars were sold to U.S. customers in 2016, and approximately four million cars were manufactured here in the same year. That offers big market potential for the composites industry. However, composites only represent about 1 percent of all materials used in light vehicle production by mass, according to the firm Industrial Market Insight.

To better penetrate the market, it’s critical to understand what OEMs want. Composites Manufacturing magazine talked to two of the top 10 automakers – Volkswagen and Honda – about the role of composites in their products, the future of FRP materials and how composites suppliers can team with them.

The Volkswagen Group

Headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany, the Volkswagen Group has 12 brands, including Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche and Bentley. Its 2016 sales revenue was €217.3 billion (~$255.4 billion USD). Volkswagen has 120 production sites worldwide, including a facility in Chattanooga, Tenn., that manufactures the Passat and Atlas. Two spokespeople from Volkswagen of America Inc. shared insight on composites: Dr. Hendrik Mainka, lead engineer and project manager, and Michael Rademacher, materials research engineer.

Q: How has composite use on Volkswagen automobiles grown in the past several years?

The use of composites has seen a constant growth within our vehicles. Advanced composites, like carbon fiber, have seen a sharp increase in high performance and/or luxury vehicles. On the other hand, our large volume vehicles have been using glass fiber and natural fibers (flax reinforced polypropylene) composites since 2015. In the coming years this will continue to grow, with the introduction of composite into exterior body panels and structural members.

Q: Which of your car models features the most composites?

Certainly, the highest percentage of FRPs will be found in our vehicles that use composite or hybrid chassis or structural members. FRPs can also be found in every new Atlas, Golf, Jetta, Passat and Tiguan sold, from interior panels to components within the engine bay. Currently, you will see approximately 5 to 7 percent of the vehicle’s mass is composites. Over the next years, it will grow substantially.

Q: Can you provide examples of where composites have replaced other materials, such as high-strength steel or aluminum?

The Modular Sportscar System (MSS) platform by some of our performance brands is a great example. Introduced in 2014, it replaced the complete aluminum construction of the previous platform with a hybrid aluminum/CFRP design. The new chassis now utilizes resin transfer molded (RTM) B-pillars, chassis tunnel and rear firewall. The resultant was a chassis that is 15 percent lighter than the previous platform, now weighing exactly 200 kilograms. What is more interesting is that the torsional rigidity has increased by 40 percent, meaning that by only replacing 13 percent of the chassis with CFRP, we have gained tremendous performance without breaking the bank for our customers.