Malcolm Flynn | Oct 11, 2012

Ford plans to bring carbon-fibre construction to mainstream car manufacturing, demonstrating a new prototype at the Composites Europe event in Germany.

The current-model Focus prototype was fitted with a carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) bonnet panel that weighed less than half that of a conventional steel panel.

Carbon fibre panels are nothing new in the automotive industry, but are generally only found in high-end exotics or the aftermarket (with questionable legality).

This is because carbon fibre is relatively expensive and time-consuming to produce, compared to steel, while construction must be tailored to ensure predictable deformation in a collision - an element that eludes most aftermarket components.

Typically, carbon fibre is five times stronger than steel, twice as stiff, and one third the weight of steel - all highly desirable qualities in the automotive world.

“Reducing a vehicle’s weight can deliver major benefits for fuel consumption, but a process for fast and affordable production of carbon fiber automotive parts in large numbers has never been available”, Inga Wehmeyer of Ford’s European Research Centre said.

Ford claims that its prototype bonnet can be constructed using new processes that reduce its production time to a point suitable for mainstream assembly line manufacturing.

The prototype is the result of the Hightech.NRW research project, where Ford has teamed up with Aachen University in Germany, along with composite material specialists Henkel, Evonlik, IKV, Composite Impulse, and Toho Tenax.

This project will continue until late next year, and will also focus on the cost-effectiveness of such panels, along with ensuring a suitable surface quality for painting and exterior use.

Ford assures that while such panels will not reach production in the immediate future, carbon fibre is on its way to mainstream automotive manufacturing.

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