Carbon fiber is a very expensive, yet lightweight and strong material that is typically used in motorsports and the production of exotic sports cars. The reason you don't see carbon fiber in mainstream automobiles is the cost of manufacturing the material and producing parts made from carbon fiber. Ford has teamed up with Dow, and the duo is working to bring low-cost and high-volume carbon fiber composites to next-generation vehicles.
The big push here is weight reduction, carbon fiber is significantly lighter than the stamped metal automotive parts cars use today. The less weight a vehicle carries, the better its performance given the same size engine. The engine size can be reduced saving fuel and still offer the same performance to the driver when the car is lighter. Ford says that weight reductions of as much as 750 pounds are needed on its future vehicles to be able to meet fuel economy and electric vehicle range targets.
The use of carbon fiber could have the most impact on electric vehicles since the less weight battery packs have to push, the further the same size battery pack can drive the car. The two companies will be working under a joint development agreement that will have researchers collaborating on several different fronts. The development teams will focus on devising an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fiber and then work to develop component-manufacturing methods for high volume automotive applications. Ford believes if the joint development is successful we could see carbon fiber components appearing on production Ford vehicles at the end of this 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."