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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