Ford seeks to lighten cars with carbon fibre

Exotic cars, such as the McLaren MP4-12C, boast lightweight bodies that are made entirely of carbon fibre-reinforced panels, yet a demonstration by Ford of a carbon fibre hood suggests that mass commercialisation of this advanced material will trickle out on a piece-by-piece basis.

Ford showed off this Focus with a carbon fibre-reinforced hood at a materials conference in Germany.
(Credit: Ford)

Carbon fibre-reinforced components can weigh less than half of their steel equivalents, while still exhibiting similar strength. However, carbon fibre is currently too time-consuming and expensive to produce for use in affordable, mass market cars. BMW currently builds a carbon fibre roof over the cabin of its M3 performance vehicle, and is working with Daimler on developing a practical production process for carbon fibre body components.

To manufacture the hood, Ford's European Research Centre worked with Hightech.NRW, a German research consortium dedicated to developing practical carbon fibre-based automotive components. Ford showed off the new component at the Composites Europe conference in Dusseldorf, Germany, touting the production process, which cut down time and cost to build the hood.

In Europe, Ford has partnered with Dow Automotive Systems to commercialise the new materials production process. Ford said that the goal of this technology is to shed about 340kg from its production cars. This technology would take the curb weight of a 2013 Ford Focus from 1337kg down to 997kg, a reduction that would increase fuel economy.

The research is also looking into sandwiching a foam core between carbon fibre-reinforced body panels, to improve car-pedestrian collision safety.

The advent of carbon fibre-reinforced body panels on cars, means an end to merely pulling out a ding or pounding out damage, but this material's strength also means that it can handle small abuses, such as being smacked with a shopping cart.


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