Ford to Add Carbon Fiber to Mainstream Models By 2020
It's the latest automaker to commit to the exotic material's weight-saving properties.
Ford, which announced a partnership with Dow Automotive, is the latest automaker to signal a need for lighter vehicle weights in order meet increasingly tough fuel-economy regulations. The automaker, which had offered a carbon-fiber hood on the 2008 Shelby GT500KR, says the material will help cut weight by 250 to 750 pounds per vehicle, depending on the model.
"This project is really focused on being able to get an economical, high-volume source and manufacturing techniques so we can use it in more mainstream, everyday products versus the niche applications where you see it today," said Alan Hall, Ford's technology spokesman.
Part of Ford's plan, Hall says, is to use carbon fiber where it won't be seen, such as in the engine clamshell linings of the GT supercar. For electric cars and plug-in hybrids, both saddled with batteries that often weigh hundreds of pounds, the material will be especially useful, the company said.
Today, carbon fiber is so expensive to buy (approximately $100 for a superthin square-meter sheet, according to supercar maker Koenigsegg) and labor-intensive to work with (requiring molded parts to be vacuum-sealed and baked for hours) that only exotic sports cars and racing teams can afford to use the material in large quantities. Its distinctive threaded, gunmetal appearance is often used on interior trim pieces, or on mirrors and spoilers, to show off a car's performance intentions.
But new methods that would mix carbon fiber in a plastic composite may be the key to making the material more affordable. Amit Naskar, a lead researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, is working on carbon-fiber composites with Dow. His team is studying how polyethylene, a cheap polymer used to make plastic bags, can be formulated to make low-cost carbon-fiber threads of varying shapes and surfaces (see their photo below) versus today's more uniform weaves.
"We have to demonstrate scalability and large-scale manufacturing," Naskar said. "This work is in the developmental stage."
Toyota, which showed a concept car built with a carbon-fiber plastic composite body in 2007, applied a similar concept with the Lexus LFA supercar and even invented a special looming machine to weave its own threads. BMW is planning to use carbon-fiber plastic for the passenger cells on the i3 electric car, which will go into production in 2013 at a rate of 30,000 per year. Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz and smart, plans to use carbon fiber in certain cars later this year as well.
Carbon fiber is expensive to produce and work with. Surely that huge cost will be passed on to the consumer.
The more manufacturers that use it, the cheaper it becomes. It isn't nearly as expensive as it was in the early 2000's and manufacturers have discovered easier ways to manipulate and use it. By 2020, it will be far cheaper and much easier to work with.
Ford is still a non-luxery more "entry" level automanufacturer and this article details it for "maintstream" models. This comes to concept of the Focus/Fiesta/Fusion, etc. Ford is already dabling in it with performance cars, as is most every automaker but it takes time for things to spill to the "cheaper" models out there. Agreed though, it would be nice to see it used in all models sooner, rather than later.
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