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Carbon Fiber in Automotive Applications

Carbon fiber—it’s a popular material for high-end and durable consumer products from backpacks to bicycles. But it’s the automotive industry that’s breaking into carbon fiber applications that change vehicles on a fundamental level for higher speeds and better energy efficiency.

 

What is Carbon Fiber?

Carbon fiber refers to a material made of carbon atoms arranged in long, thin crystals that are braided or woven together into a fabric. The fabric can then be combined with epoxy to make almost any shape.

 

Because of the crystal arrangement in carbon fiber, it’s incredibly strong when compared to its size. For this reason, carbon fiber materials are also lightweight compared to other materials of the same durability, and carbon fiber is breaking into a variety of industries as a replacement for steel and aluminum parts.

 

Carbon Fiber in the Automotive Industry 

Aerospace and manufacturing industries have already taken advantage of carbon fiber parts, but the automotive industry is taking the wheel for some of the latest carbon fiber advancements. Carbon fiber can be molded into nearly any shape, including shapes that can’t be constructed with traditional materials. The automotive industry has started using carbon fiber for strong, lightweight parts that increase speed and improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.

 

Currently, the majority of carbon fiber automotive parts are used in high-end sports cars and European supercars; although, some carbon fiber composite parts are available aftermarket. Vehicle parts such as body components, wheels and rims, and interior finishes all utilize carbon fiber for its unique properties and sleek appearance.

 

Carbon Fiber Body

Since sports cars are intended to be speedy, carbon fiber is the perfect material for decreasing the overall weight of a vehicle without compromising safety. BMW, Chevrolet Corvette, and Alfa Romeo have all included carbon fiber pieces in the bodies of their high-end cars for improved speed and energy efficiency.

 

BMW uses carbon fiber components in the upper portions of their 7-series sedan such as roof elements and supporting pillars with the intention of lowering the car’s center of gravity. The Alfa Romeo 4C, on the other hand, has a completely carbon fiber chassis, which cuts the weight of vehicle down to just 2500lbs. Other cars of similar styles and sizes generally weigh 3000lbs or more, making the 4C a lightweight luxury in its class.

 

Carbon fiber body components are more than speed enhancers. Lighter weight chassis are ideal for electric cars as well. With lower overall vehicle weight, a smaller battery can be used to achieve the same or even higher levels of performance as less energy is needed to make the car go.

 

Carbon Fiber Wheels and Carbon Fiber Rims

With a price tag of $65,000, the Alfa Romeo 4C is a dream alone for most consumers. Carbon fiber-based wheels and rims have become one of the most popular applications of the material for the automotive industry, available as add-ons or aftermarket parts.

 

The design and build of carbon fiber wheels reduce noise and vibration while providing the same lightweight-but-strong benefits of using carbon fiber in the chassis of a car. Carbon fiber does a better job than steel and aluminum to dampen high-frequency noise, vibration, and harshness from the road, leading to quieter vehicle cabins.

 

When molded in the proper epoxy, carbon fiber can also withstand heat and pressure over time and won’t deform, making it an excellent material for wheels and rims. They also reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency of vehicles, and since they’re available aftermarket, they can benefit almost any vehicle.

 

Carbon fiber rims have a more aesthetic appeal to them, giving wheels a sleek, streamlined finished that’ll instantly add value to any vehicle. Looks aren’t everything for carbon fiber rims, however, and they sport the same benefits of wheels by reducing weight and holding their shape under pressure.

 

Carbon Fiber Interiors

Rims are a combination of form and function, but sometimes you just want a sleek, high-end look. Carbon fiber is still your go-to. Interior elements commonly made of polymers or aluminum are being replaced with carbon fiber elements instead for an extra level of detail. Because of its durability, carbon fiber makes a great interior material, too.

 

Carbon Fiber Shipping Trailers

Similar to carbon fiber bodies on sports cars, different concepts for carbon fiber applications in shipping vehicles are coming around, namely for semi truck trailers. Walmart, in partnership with Peterbilt, Great Dane Trailers, and Capstone Turbine, created a concept semi with a complete carbon fiber trailer. The 53-foot trailer, along with an improved cabin design, is estimated to be 20% more aerodynamic than the average semi. Lighter trailers help shipment centers meet weight requirements and allow for trucks to make better travel times. 

 

PCMI Automotive Carbon Fiber Applications

PCMI Manufacturing has been an innovator of carbon fiber applications in a number of industries, but our roots in the auto industry is where we really excel. We’ve created parts that are used by major companies for new capabilities and automotive applications, including Waymo, the Google Autonomous Vehicle.

 

Want to learn more about how PCMI uses carbon fiber to create innovative and complex prototype parts? Click the link below to learn more!

Learn More About Carbon Fiber