Carbon fiber has been in use for many years in the automotive industry in the name of performance, but Ford is trying to bring this lightweight material to the masses in the name of fuel economy. As a part of the German-funded Hightech.NRW project that began in 2010, Ford and Dow Automotive Systems have been trying to come up with a way to make carbon fiber feasible for everyday cars.

To demonstrate how important carbon fiber could be in non-performance-car applications, Ford installed a carbon fiber reinforced plastic hood on the Focus wagon shown above. Ford says carbon fiber is five times stronger than steel yet is just one-third the weight. This prototype hood weighs about half of what a conventional steel hood would weigh, and it still passes all of the safety needs required from a vehicle including dent resistance, pedestrian protection and during frontal crashes.

CFRP parts are apparently more time consuming to paint, so the project is also trying to find a faster way to finish the parts while keeping the same quality standards in place for steel components.

CFRP is an ideal material to use on hybrids and EVs, but Ford also has a plan to reduce the weight of its vehicles by about 750 pounds each by the end of the decade. Currently, resources and production methods make carbon fiber an expensive material, so the biggest test will be getting these costs down to make it economical for use in a sub-$20,000 car. There's no word how much this prototype hood cost Ford to produce, but in a day where automakers are trying to squeeze every last pound out of a car's curb weight, carbon fiber could become a very important material in future vehicles.

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Ford Develops Carbon Fibre Technology that Could Deliver More Fuel-Efficient Vehicles

-Ford Motor Company demonstrates a prototype carbon fibre bonnet that could cut vehicle weight and improve fuel economy
-Ford Focus carbon fibre prototype bonnet weighs more than 50 percent less than steel version with production times significantly reduced by new processes that can also be applied to other components
-Ford European Research Centre involvement in the Hightech.NRW research project follows Ford partnership with Dow Automotive Systems to research advanced material usage, development and manufacturing
-Carbon fibre reinforced plastic component is manufactured using new techniques developed as part of advanced research project involving Ford engineers


Ford Develops Carbon Fibre Technology

DUSSELDORF, Germany, Oct. 9, 2012 – Ford Motor Company today demonstrated a prototype carbon fibre bonnet that could help lower fuel consumption for Ford customers.

The carbon fibre reinforced plastic Ford Focus bonnet displayed at the Composites Europe event in Dusseldorf, Germany is constructed from the super-strong material usually associated with bespoke racing vehicles or high-performance sports cars.

The prototype bonnet weighs more than 50 percent less than a standard steel version. As a result of progress made during an on-going research project involving engineers from the Ford European Research Centre, production time for an individual carbon fibre bonnet is fast enough to be employed on a production line – a significant step towards increased usage of lightweight materials in Ford vehicles.

"It's no secret that reducing a vehicle's weight can deliver major benefits for fuel consumption, but a process for fast and affordable production of carbon fibre automotive parts in large numbers has never been available," said Inga Wehmeyer, advanced materials and processes research engineer, Ford European Research Centre. "By partnering with materials experts through the Hightech.NRW research project, Ford is working to develop a solution that supports cost efficient manufacturing of carbon fibre components."

The involvement of Ford European Research Centre in the Hightech.NRW research project follows Ford's partnership with Dow Automotive Systems; a collaboration announced earlier this year that will investigate new materials, design processes and manufacturing techniques.

Dow Automotive Systems and Ford will focus on establishing an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fibre, as well as high-volume manufacturing methods: both critical to increasing the range of future Ford battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Carbon fibre offers a very high strength-to-weight ratio. It is up to five times as strong as steel, twice as stiff, and one-third the weight. Advanced materials such as carbon fibre are key to Ford's plans to reduce the weight of its cars by up to 340kg by the end of the decade.

"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 has partnered with specialists from the Institute of Automotive Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, Henkel, Evonik, IKV (Institute of Plastics Processing), Composite Impulse and Toho Tenax for the course of the Hightech.NRW research project.

Funded by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the project began in 2010 and, despite being set to continue until September 2013, has already made significant progress towards its targets of:

Developing a cost effective method to manufacture carbon fibre composites for body panel applications that can be incorporated into existing vehicle production processes
Significantly reducing individual component production times
Reducing the amount of finishing work required to acceptable standards
Meeting requirements for painting
At least 50 percent reduction in component weight

The refined gap-impregnation process works by introducing resin to pre-formed carbon fibre textile material in a fast, stable and adaptable manner, with high quality results.

Initial testing suggests that CFRP components such as the prototype Ford Focus bonnet will meet Ford's high standards for stiffness, dent resistance and crash performance. The component has also performed well in pedestrian protection head-impact tests, thanks to its innovative construction of a special foam core sandwiched between two layers of CFRP.

"Customers of Ford's multi-million selling passenger cars should not expect to see carbon fibre-bodied examples on sale in the near future," said Inga Wehmeyer. "But the techniques we have refined and developed for the prototype Focus bonnet could be transferred to higher volume applications at a later date."

About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 168,000 employees and about 65 plants worldwide, the company's automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford and its products worldwide, please visit http://corporate.ford.com.

Ford of Europe is responsible for producing, selling and servicing Ford brand vehicles in 51 individual markets and employs approximately 66,000 employees. In addition to Ford Motor Credit Company, Ford of Europe operations include Ford Customer Service Division and 22 manufacturing facilities, including joint ventures. The first Ford cars were shipped to Europe in 1903 – the same year Ford Motor Company was founded. European production started in 1911.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 46 Comments
      paulwesterberg
      • 2 Years Ago
      It is about time auto manufacturers adopt carbon fiber parts which offer a superior strength to weight ratio. My carbon fiber road bike frame weighs about 1.8kg and can support my body weight(86kg) over rough roads and on high speed descents.
        Nemebean
        • 2 Years Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        And how much extra did you pay for the CF frame? It's not like no one's doing carbon fiber in cars, it's just way too expensive for the vast majority of us.
      jpadow
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is all well and good, but how about bringing the Focus wagon in the picture to the states.
        domerie
        • 2 Years Ago
        @jpadow
        I second that motion. I just bought a VW Jetta wagon with a diesel only because it's the only wagon available in the US I can afford. Both Ford and GM build great looking wagons (with 42 mpg diesels) for the rest of the world but not US! I don't need or want a high (center of gravity) riding crossover with limited cargo capacity just to "fit in" with the cool crowd wasting money on gasoline.
      merlot066
      • 2 Years Ago
      "it still passes all of the safety needs required from a vehicle including dent resistance, pedestrian protection and _______ during frontal crashes" Fill in the blank?
      yyz
      • 2 Years Ago
      It will be THE biggest game changer when somebody comes up with a cost effective carbon fiber manufacturing process. Somebody get on that.
        Fixitfixitstop
        • 2 Years Ago
        @yyz
        "Somebody get on that." Doesn't this article state that Ford is getting on that?
      Cruising
      • 2 Years Ago
      Carbon fiber is brilliant to bad recycling the stuff is a pain in the butt. All those 787's when retired in about 25 + years will make a hell of a lot of car bodies. The day when carbon fiber can be recycled cost effectively like steel and can retain it's original strength after being processed will be a breakthrough.
      Drakkon
      • 2 Years Ago
      Wasn't part of the Lamborghini Elemento Sesto project to make the car mostly fiber, but also using cheaper manufacturing? I think they made their non-structural carbon piece (hoods, fenders) out of chopped up bits of carbon instead of weave mats. If it's not bearing weight, the epoxy binders are strong enough to the do the work. Chopped carbon would be like OSB board, when a weave mat panel would be more like plywood. Then, like building material, the expensive weave is used for the structural bits. The waste material is chopped up and used for the cosmetic body panels.
      AddLightness
      • 2 Years Ago
      this is great and all and im sure itll happen someday but theres been identical articles like this posted for several years. only difference is its always about a different car brand. nothing new here
      Ben Wright
      • 2 Years Ago
      I wonder what method Seibon uses. They have ford mustang hoods in carbon fiber that are cheaper than some fiberglass hoods.
        Chett Says
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ben Wright
        If they're not already, I could see many current CF producers becoming OE parts providers in the furutre.
      nightthunder86
      • 2 Years Ago
      Just think...no more hail damange with a full carbon fiber body. PS. Texans would love it....
      Ryan
      • 2 Years Ago
      I took off the steel bedsides of my pickup truck last weekend. Each side weighed 34 lbs, the fiberglass replacements weighed 11. Add in the 45 lbs steel bumper replaced with a 5 lbs roll pan, and removing 30 lbs from the tailgate... I'll probably be able to remove 120-130 lbs of steel from the bed total, but it will look the same. There are a bunch of other parts I have removed too, I'll know if it worked when I put it all on the scale.
      kevsflanagan
      • 2 Years Ago
      To my knowledge and please correct me if I'm wrong here folks buuuuut is not Carbon Fiber unrepairable? If so when parts do break you'll have to pay for brand new ones all the time. For me till they can figure out a way to repair the cf parts it will still be expensive even on large volume cars.
        rmkensington
        • 2 Years Ago
        @kevsflanagan
        It cant be repaired at all from what i have read. The entire piece would need to be replaced. This comes up occasionally on the car blogs when someone wrecks a very pricey exotic.
      • 2 Years Ago
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