• May 12, 2008
On the surface, carbon fiber sounds like a wonder-product which can replace much of the heavy metal, especially steel, that makes up the vast majority of nearly every automobile's structure. Dig a bit deeper, however, and there are a few flies in CF's ointment that make it very difficult to use in vehicles: price, supply and the time it takes to mold a the weaved material. Japan's big three carbon fiber producers are tackling each of these issues in a number of ways. First, the price of CF is expected to become more competitive as both carbon cloth goes down and rolled sheet steel goes up. What's more, as additional CF producing plants come online in the coming years, both the price and availability should improve. Third, new molding processes are being developed which could reduce the time it takes to produce a CF part from hours to minutes.

Carbon fiber is expected to ease the transition to more fuel efficient vehicles as it weights a fifth of what steel does for a part of roughly the same strength. As Automotive News points out, the overall weight of any given vehicle could be halved by replacing major structural steel components with CF, so expect to see CF move down market from the exotics to more mainstream models in the next decade or so.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]


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  • 38 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      Let's hope this allows them to make stronger pedal assemblies.

        • 6 Years Ago
        lookin at you Mitsu...
      • 6 Years Ago
      I guess the Japanese are getting tired of importing recycled steel from the U.S. to manufacture their vehicles...
        • 6 Years Ago
        Here's a link that provides some background on auto body construction. Take note of the paragraph describing the difference between the materials the Japanese use v.s. U.S. and Germany.

        http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=auto%20body
        • 6 Years Ago
        German automakers use galvanized steel (they have their own foundries), as well as some U.S. automakers. Japanese automakers use recycled steel imported from the U.S. (this is common knowledge in the auto body repair industry), since the island lacks the size and capacity to manufacture steel from mined iron ore, and it is cost-prohibitive to ship the raw iron ore from the U.S.
        • 6 Years Ago
        CMS:

        "Dont comment on what you dont know about. Japan imports its iron ore from Brazil/Austrailia (like most of the world). Scrap is used in ALL modern steel (20-30% in blast furnance and 80% in arc furnace applications). I could go on and on (I follow steel for a living) but needless to say there is NO difference between Japanese cars and domestic cars in this regard."

        Thank you, Doctor CMS for your expert opinion...

        Please enlighten us on the difference between the steel used in Japanese cars and the galvanized steel used in German cars (I drive German cars, so I couldn't care less about domestic vehicles).
        • 6 Years Ago
        knightuc1992: What do those anecdotes have to do with the strength of steel and what does that have to do with carbon fiber?

        Many modern cars are designed to crumple in a collision instead of transmitting the force of a collision to the occupants. Other cars have bumpers (and underlying supports) that are better able to absorb and dissipate impacts than other cars.

        Neither of these things are really related to either a) the "strength" of (German) steel or b) carbon fiber being used in more mainstream cars.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Dont comment on what you dont know about. Japan imports its iron ore from Brazil/Austrailia (like most of the world). Scrap is used in ALL modern steel (20-30% in blast furnance and 80% in arc furnace applications). I could go on and on (I follow steel for a living) but needless to say there is NO difference between Japanese cars and domestic cars in this regard. These comments may be the most ignorant thing I have seen on the web today.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Japan produces more steel than the United States does:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_steel_production

        If the steel is harder, its because it was produced that way, probably so they have to use less of it (it is still an expensive commodity, esp. with prices going the way they are).

        Steel is steel guys. "Recycled" steel is chemically, structurally, down to the atomic level, exactly the same as non-'recycled' steel.

        Japan has less iron ore. But they produce more steel. That means they're importing...iron ore. The same stuff we use to make steel.

        ...how some of these 'facts' get disseminated is beyond me, really....
        • 6 Years Ago
        pretty much everyone uses recycled steel, it is identical in quality and stregnth
        • 6 Years Ago
        Steel is steel guys. "Recycled" steel is chemically, structurally, down to the atomic level, exactly the same as non-'recycled' steel.


        Tell that to some of the auto body shop technicians that I know. They told me from their experience that a fender bender which causes minor damage on a car with higher grade steel would result in thousands of dollars worth of damage on a Japanese car.

        Case in point - my wife has a 2003 Passat. She was involved in two accidents - one was a chain reaction accident where she was hit from behind by an E-series Lexus and ran into another vehicle in front of her (an older Mercedes). When the State Trooper asked her if she was involved in the accident, she had to show him where the front and rear bumpers were pushed in. The bumpers were able to absorb the energy of the impact before it got to the body. The Lexus sustained heavy front end damaged like an accordion and had to be towed. The Mercedes sustained a dent in the bumper and was driveable. My wife was able to drive her car from the accident.

        In the second accident, a clueless driver in a Malibu plowed into the back of my wife at a red light. The accident jarred her pretty good, but the only damaged sustained was her right side rear bumper was pushed in. Once again, the body was untouched - unlike the Malibu which sustained front -end damage including a big dent in the hood.

        So you can pooh, pooh the 'facts' as you call them. The proof is in the pudding.

        By the way, if this doesn't convice you, why don't you drive to a nearby auto recycling yard and observe the damage on some Japanese and German vehicles, and see for yourself. Or better yet, go to several auto body shops and ask their opinion on these cars. I have - because I prefer to see things firsthand for myself.
        • 6 Years Ago
        To satisfy the request of the "thread police", I offer this explanation:

        It all started with a comment I made:

        "I guess the Japanese are getting tired of importing recycled steel from the U.S. to manufacture their vehicles..."

        Others responded, then I responded back.
        It's part of the normal ebb and flow of discussion.

        The end...
      • 6 Years Ago
      Steel bends, carbon fiber cracks if you're lucky (or shatters if you aren't). wouldn't that be a problem for using CF in structural components?
      most accidents = new frame = totaled car
        • 6 Years Ago
        a lot of it could be modular, allowing for parts to be easily and quickly changed and if you bend a frame, then it was a pretty serious accident, your car's probably screwed regardless.
      • 6 Years Ago
      More than thirty years ago a close friend of mine who worked as a chemist specializing in polymers told me that petroleum , which he assumed even then was a finite resource, was far too valuable a feedstock to burn as fuel. He predicted that as the price of oil rose over time, the need for petroleum as a feedstock to build durable goods would force us to burn something else as fuel.

      Looks like we may be headed that way as we'll use polymers to build cars and electricity and bio-fuels to power them.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I see most people here are stuck on the idea that CF's first use will be the main load-bearing structure of the car. But it will more than likely start with individual body panels. Each CF roof, hood, and trunk weighs 1/2 as much as the lightest metal one, and is equally as strong.

      Replace all the panels on a car, and you could save 200-500lbs on each and every vehicle. Without even starting to worry about the safety cage, crush zones, etc.

      That can add up to a lot of improved MPGs for not a lot of design
      changes. All they have to do is make it cheap enough to use.

        • 6 Years Ago
        The body panels aren't load bearing structures (beyond air drag and incidental contact) so strength largely doesn't matter.

        They will eventually be replaced with cheap plastic, not carbon fiber.

        In the mean time, they've been thinned down to almost nothing. Been a long time since a car had 500 pounds of body panels.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually, my car, BMW 6 series has several body panels that are already made of polymers. The Corvette has really light fiberglass body panels too. Like previous replier points out, I don't think they will use CF on body panels when you already have cheap-er plastic alternatives already.

      • 6 Years Ago
      Serious question: How would carbon fiber stand up in a crash? When you just have a CF hood or roof it's probably not an issue, but if you're making the major structural components out of it that seems like something that should be taken into account. Will it crumple like steel does and absorb some of the energy? I don't really have any experience with the material, but it seems like it would just snap instead of crumpling which would have an adverse effect on safety. Anyone who knows more care to enlighten me?
        • 6 Years Ago
        You have to realize that it is not in a car company's interest to sell an unsafe car, and that that company's engineers are capable of taking CF's limitations into account when designing the safety features of said car.
        Most likely the CF would be used extensively in all structual components (especially the safety cage where lack of deformation is good) and other materials with linear deformation properties would be used to dissipate energy in the crumple zones. As seen in race cars for years.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "think F1 crash, they use carbon.

        It's pretty safe, it shatters/breaks up instead of crumpling"

        "Shattering" is not a good thing in this case; it would defeat the entire purpose of crumple zones. When you get into a collision, you *want* the front or rear of the car to fold up like an accordion. Reason being that plastic deformation of steel dissipates a lot of energy; energy which doesn't get transferred to you or your passengers. A brittle material like carbon fiber/epoxy won't deform like that, and it will either 1) shatter uselessly and not dissipate much energy, or 2) remain rigid and dump most of the energy into you. Feel like a broken neck?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Something to point out is that energy is still absorbed when carbon fiber shatters. Also consider that when it shatters, you're actually tearing the carbon fibers which takes a considerable amount of energy.
        • 6 Years Ago
        think F1 crash, they use carbon.

        It's pretty safe, it shatters/breaks up instead of crumpling
        • 6 Years Ago
        when a material cracks or shatters, it absorbs a lot of energy, which is the entire point of crumple zones. different way of getting to the same place safety wise.

        different materials have different strengths and weaknesses. CF is not appropriate for all components of a car. it is super brittle, has very little give unlike steel.

        i am still waiting for cast magnesium to take off as a structural material. the cost is coming down at the same time as steel and aluminum are going up and its lower density gives it huge advantages for many sub-assemblies in modern cars.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually carbon fiber is the best structural material in terms of energy absorption. Depending on the application your looking at something like 10-12 times the amount of energy absorbed in a CFRP part compared to a similarly strengthed steel part. All of the energy goes into delaminating the carbon strands from the epoxy, and physically breaking the individual strands themselves. Another added bonus is that it absorbs all of this energy in a very small space, as compared to a steel part which you need to engineer to crumple in on itself in order to absorb the energy. Aluminum is better than steel at this, but still requires extra space to form a "crumple zone".
          • 6 Years Ago
          Isn't the whole point of crumple zones to not absorb energy quickly, but to absorb energy over a longer period of time? I think it has something to do with the Impulse.

          If you punch a wall, it hurts, now punch a pillow with the same force, it doesn't hurt as much. Sure the wall can absorb more force than a pillow but the time the force is dissipated is longer with the pillow so the force on your hand is smaller at any one time.

          Carbon fibre may absorb more force than steel, but this eliminates the benefit of crumple zones. The 'safety cell' that cars have will be perfectly protected, but people will cop more force inside. Old cars had perfectly rigid bodies, have a crash, cars just needed some paint work, the people inside did their own blood paint work in the interior.
        • 6 Years Ago
        umm I thought carbon fiber was good for safety?

        It takes a lot of force for them shatter.
        In a way it is a crumple zone, however it takes a lot more.
        I mean seriously, if F1 cars could crash at high speeds, carbon fiber would have to be safe in some way.

        Heck the 787 from Boeing has more carbon fiber in it for strength, the wings and fuselage I've heard.
        • 6 Years Ago
        If they can make fiberglass bodied cars then there won't be a problem with CF.
      • 6 Years Ago
      If it goes main stream without altering the price then it'd be great... should see some new designs that will soon follow :)


      and... I'd like to point out in "English" it's fibre, not fiber. Like centre, not center.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Here's a link that provides some background on auto body construction. Take note of the paragraph describing the difference between the materials the Japanese use v.s. U.S. and Germany.

      http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=auto%20body
      • 6 Years Ago
      There is a world wide shortage of CF at present, with both Airbus and Boeing building new large aircraft structures (A350 & 787) almost entirely from CF there is not a lot left to go arround.
      Also repairing CF is far from easy, usually needing replacement of the part in question, so from a strength and weight point of view it would be excelent for the main structure of a car, from a repair point of view its not so hot.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Prices of CF has been steadily increasing over the past 5 years (I am sailor and lot of quality gear is made of CF). One of the main reasons for shortages is that Boeing is making 777 fuselages out of it.

      With use/demand for CF steadily increasing it will be interesting to see which way the prices will go.
        • 6 Years Ago
        787 fuselages are made of CF, not 777s, although the complete tail/rudder assembly of the 777 is infact CF
      • 6 Years Ago
      How about the plastic East German Trabant, Trabi?

      It was a fairly indestructable car, its average lifespan was 28 years.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trabant
      • 6 Years Ago
      Isn't decomposition and yellowing still a problem? I know GM solved the problem, but I'm assuming their solution is the subject of several patents.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Thats an issue with exposed carbon fiber. Most car companies paint carbon fiber so these issues wont happen.
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