Q: What is the most innovative use Honda has made of composites to date?

In my opinion, it’s the Ridgeline. The first-generation model broke new ground in terms of having in-bed storage, and that was something that was achieved using the design flexibility that composite materials – in this case SMC – afford. The second-generation took that material system and built upon it, which tends to be Honda’s philosophy – using the right material in the right place and continuing to incrementally improve in terms of performance, quality and overall customer value. With the Ridgeline, we moved from basically a single, painted SMC formulation material system to a multi-material composite system. The side walls and headboard are made of a molded-in-color black polypropylene-reinforced fiberglass system. The load-bearing surfaces remain SMC, but we’ve also added scratch toughness by eliminating the paint system while retaining the strength and durability of the original system.

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

I can give you two examples. Quite frankly, it’s just not possible to make the in-bed trunk of the Ridgeline via metal stamping, considering the draw of the trunk and how the overall system is put together. Additionally, the robustness that composites offer made it a perfect fit for us to maximize the value we could give the customer. The second example is some of the body panels on the NSX. There was both a style and weight advantage by moving to composites. For that vehicle, considering the customer usage and our overall manufacturing environment, composites were a great fit.

Q: What challenges remain that prevent further use of composites in the automotive industry?

Of course, with any material you will have plusses and minuses. There’s not one material that’s always the right fit for every application across the board. One thing with composites compared to steel, and in some cases aluminum, is that these materials are younger in terms of total use for the automotive industry. So I believe one of the big challenges that exists industry wide is just educating people from design to test to manufacturing, etc. Another aspect that’s extremely important for Honda is guaranteeing overall quality, safety and robustness for our customers. To do that, we need to be able to accurately predict performance up front. When we’re going through our wide battery of confirmation tests to ensure we meet all those properties, it’s really important to have reliable predictive capabilities for all the materials we use.