Carbon fibre used to be the lightweight supermaterial reserved for F1 or supercars. But carbon fibre could be about to take another step further into the mainstream.
And while we’ve seen carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) body panels before, the real progress has been made in the production process for the material, which is now fast enough to be used on Ford’s regular production line.
“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.
Although Ford didn't release how much the bonnet weighs, or what fuel efficiency benefits could be had from switching to CFRP, there are some major benefits of the material over conventional steel. Namely, CFRP is up to five times as strong as steel, twice as stiff, and one-third the weight. Ford plans to use the material to reduce the weight of its cars by up to 340kg by the end of the decade.
Ford’s lightweight body panel project began in 2010 and sought to develop carbon fibre composite panels that were cheap, finished to a high standard, weighed less than 50 per cent of their steel equivalent and could be incorporated on a current production line.
The prototype Ford Focus bonnet also meets Ford’s standards for crash performance. Ford claims that the bonnet has also performed well in pedestrian protection head-impact tests, thanks to a special foam core sandwiched between two layers of CFRP.
“Customers of Ford’s 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.”