Carbon Fiber in Car making: An Overview

Carbon Fiber in Car making: An Overview

Here's a pivotal year to remember: 1981. This is the first time a manufacturer utilized carbon fiber in the car making process. We are talking about McLaren, who decided to take their Formula 1 ambitions to another level and produced the MP4/1 – the first carbon fiber car. 

Similar to a movie scenario, the reactions were controversial. Still, results were resounding because not only did McLaren won the British Grand Prix that year, but the car also saved a life at Monza when it crashed later in the season.

Formula 1 McLaren yellow car

Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

Two things became crystal clear:

  1.  1. Carbon fiber made the vehicle lightweight and improved overall performance.
  2.  2. The material stands out with impressive durability, and its safety characteristics preserved the life of a driver when aluminum would have failed

But enough history lessons. Let’s fast forward a few decades where most of us would think that carbon fiber has completely taken over the automotive industry. However, we are yet to experience the widespread application of the material in mainstream car manufacturing.

There’s no doubt about the qualities of carbon fiber. It resembles fabric in the sense that it is flexible and easy to work with. In terms of durability, though, carbon fiber surpasses steel and should be the absolute “go-to” material when we want to create anything that we drive or fly. But why isn’t it?

Carbon Fiber Raw Material

The method to **molding carbon fiber consists of a series of chemical processes**. Needless to say, this is both time-consuming and labour-intensive. Currently, the costs of carbon fiber in the car industry are 10 times more than those of steel. This doesn't mean that cost-efficiency hasn't been achieved since 1981. 40 years ago, the cost of carbon fiber was about 30 times the cost of steel. 

This means that significant progress has been made and more and more car manufacturers have recently turned to carbon fiber as a material for the production of car parts. And some brands such as BMW and Alfa Romeo have been spearheading the application of the material in their car manufacturing endeavors for some time now.

Carbon Fiber Car Parts Production

Still, their i3 (BMW) and 4C (Alfa Romeo) are not for everyone as their price is in the $75,000 - $85,000 range. The goal is not to have only a carbon fiber body but also a chassis. From what we see so far, if there will be mass production of such cars, it would be electric ones that incorporate it first.

This is because the Li-Ion battery of those electro mobiles is exceptionally heavy, and possessing the benefits of a light chassis would make all the difference in the world when it comes to performance. 

BMW i3 electric

Image by Reza Qorbani from Pixabay

GMC is a brand that took a courageous step trying to make its Sierra trucks lighter in 2019. Carbon fiber was used for the creation of the truck's bed. It increased the fuel efficiency of the vehicle, but unfortunately, the price of the Sierra to the consumers also jumped.

Carbon fiber is an engineer's dream as it presents us with flexibility, lightweight, and endurance. Right now, only niche vehicles and aircraft are produced using the material entirely, but we remain optimistic that sooner rather than later, we will be able to take our kids to school in 100% carbon fiber cars.