Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s carbon fiber RTR-C Mustang from SEMA 2009

Ford is getting religion when it comes to light-weighting its vehicles. The company has entered into a new partnership with Dow Chemical to develop carbon fiber that can be manufactured at affordable prices for high-volume applications. That, of course, is the holy grail of weight reduction, which is why other manufacturers like General Motors are also partnering with suppliers to try and achieve the same ends.

Now before you get too excited about the carbon-fiber Mustang in the photos, understand that it was just a limited-production car shown at SEMA in 2009, and it carried a price tag of $135,000. That's the problem with carbon fiber parts – they are expensive because they are much more difficult to manufacture in volume than steel.

But if Ford and other carmakers are going to achieve the sorts of fuel economy improvements required by new regulations, they're going to have to either scale carbon fiber or dramatically shrink the size of most vehicles. Ford says it's targeting a 750-pound weight reduction per vehicle by the end of the decade.

Scroll down to read the full press release.
Show full PR text
Ford and Dow Team Up to Bring Low-Cost, High-Volume Carbon Fiber Composites to Next-Generation Vehicles
  • Weight reductions of up to 750 pounds on future Ford vehicles are key to meeting fuel economy and electric vehicle range targets
  • Ford and Dow engineers and researchers will combine efforts to develop low-cost carbon fiber and component-level manufacturing processes

DEARBORN, Mich., April 12, 2012 – Cutting the weight of new cars and trucks by up to 750 pounds by the end of the decade is a key component of Ford's strategy to improve fuel efficiency. In order to help achieve that goal, Ford Motor Company is partnering with Dow Automotive Systems, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Company, to research the use of advanced carbon fiber composites in high-volume vehicles.

"There are two ways to reduce energy use in vehicles: improving the conversion efficiency of fuels to motion and reducing the amount of work that powertrains need to do," said Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation. "Ford is tackling the conversion problem primarily through downsizing engines with EcoBoost® and electrification while mass reduction and improved aerodynamics are keys to reducing the workload."

Ford is investigating a range of new materials, enhanced design processes and new manufacturing techniques that would enable automotive structures to meet increasingly stringent safety and quality standards while cutting weight.

"Vehicle weight reduction for our customers through intelligent design with a materials focus has been a priority for Dow Automotive Systems," said Florian Schattenmann, director of Research and Development for Dow Automotive Systems. "This partnership with Ford on carbon fiber composites is a logical next step to progress already achieved through the use of lightweight, high-strength polymers and structural bonding technology."

Carbon fiber composites have been used in aerospace and racing cars for decades due to their unique combination of high strength and low mass. Until recently these materials have been far too costly for use in high-volume mainstream applications.

Dow Automotive Systems and Ford have signed a joint development agreement that will see researchers from the two companies collaborate on several fronts. The development teams will focus on establishing an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fiber and develop component manufacturing methods for high-volume automotive applications.

The partnership will seek to combine the best of Ford's capabilities and experience in design, engineering and high-volume vehicle production with Dow Automotive's strengths in R&D, materials science and high-volume polymer processing.

"Reducing weight will benefit the efficiency of every Ford vehicle," added Mascarenas. "However, it's particularly critical to improving the range of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles."

The joint development effort will also leverage work that The Dow Chemical Company has already begun through partnerships with Turkish carbon fiber manufacturer AKSA and the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

If the joint development effort is successful, carbon fiber components may begin appearing on new Ford vehicles in the latter part of this decade as product development teams work toward meeting new fuel efficiency standards of more than 50 mpg and extending the range of plug-in vehicles.