While carbon fiber has been in use in the automotive manufacturing industry for many years, it has typically only been used in cars with a high price tag. More recently, we’ve seen cars with a lower price point employing carbon fiber in certain parts of the car, and there are many reasons why. Read on to find out why we’re excited to see this trend take off.
Carbon Fiber Is a Lot Lighter than Aluminum or Steel
When including carbon fiber in the 2019 CarbonPro Sierra 1500, GMC was able to decrease the weight of the pickup bed by 25%. For GMC, this means an increased payload of 59 pounds for the end-user when carrying larger hauls. In another instance, German tuner, Alpha-N included a carbon fiber package in the latest BMW E92 335i Coupe, reducing the weight of the vehicle by 550 pounds. This reduced weight enabled them to upgrade the six-cylinder engine, ultimately increasing the horsepower.
Using materials that can help lightweight cars will increase speed and power, without sacrificing safety. In fact, decreasing a car’s weight by 10% can increase its efficiency by 5-8%. As industry trends towards hybrid and electric vehicles, these weight and efficiency gains can have a profound impact.
Batteries for these cars are incredibly heavy, so offsetting them through using materials like carbon fiber instead of steel can improve performance and maintain long ranges that customers are seeking.
Carbon Fiber is Strong
Indeed, at equal weight carbon fiber can be about 5 times as strong as steel and two times as stiff. Because of its strength, carbon fiber is incredibly safe when used in automobile manufacturing. In November of 2018, Volvo and Polestar crash-tested the strength of carbon fiber in critical components of its car and were pleased by its performance. In fact, in a 35-mph frontal collision, the carbon fiber components showed no signs of bending or misalignment.
Carbon Fiber is Easy to Mold
During manufacturing, carbon fiber is a flexible material, versus a rigid metal, like steel. This means you can use carbon fiber to create those tricky areas, like wheel wells, or in the case of the 2019 GMC CarbonPro Sierra 1500, create texture for traction in the pickup bed without the need for spray-in bedliner.
Carbon Fiber Reduces Risk of Fatigue and Presents More Options for Vibration Control
You might think, that with a lighter, stiffer material, fatigue would be more apparent in the vehicle. Studies have shown, however, carbon fiber presents a higher fatigue resistance, meaning the materials can withstand repeated loading for a longer period, and even after signs of fatigue are present, they can be reliably serviced and maintained.
Additionally, carbon fiber presents the opportunity to use additional materials to further lessen the impact of vibration and noise.
Countervail Products technology adds minimal weight to the carbon fiber product, but can greatly reduce vibration, thereby increasing the life of the parts.
Value (Versus Cost) of Carbon Fiber is Great
One of the biggest concerns with carbon fiber is its high raw material cost. While that is true, the value of carbon fiber is much higher than its aluminum or steel counterparts. Because the material is stronger, lighter, and can contribute to longer part lives; the value to the consumer is much greater than the true cost to the manufacturer.