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Automotive

Sleek body of a modern concept car

Industry

Automotive designers have been using carbon fiber composites for about 50 years. They are widely used in automotive engineering to make intricate shapes with desired rigidity, strength, and weight.

It is hard to imagine today’s world without automobiles which became part of our lives. So, we can witness a continuous evolution in this area producing higher technology and better state-of-the-art vehicles all the time. The pursuit of fuel economy, power gain through weight reduction, and eye-catching appearance brought attention to composite materials.

Better fuel economy through weight reduction

Advantages of carbon composites

Carbon fiber has been used in automotive engineering for many years, and the scope of application grows wider every year.

Carbon composites are lighter and stronger than metal. End users benefit from the better fuel economy of lighter vehicles which still meet all safety requirements.

  • Weight
  • High strength
  • High specific rigidity
  • Low deformability
  • High fatigue performance
  • Environmental properties

Advantages of carbon fiber composite over metal alloy in automobile parts


Carbon fiber reinforced plastic is 5 times lighter than steel and 1.8 times lighter than aluminum


Carbon fiber composites are highly resistant to corrosion


This material is tens times stronger than steel of standard grades


Carbon fiber versus other materials

Fiber type




Tensile strength, MPa Tensile modulus, GPa Elongation at break, % Density, g/cm3
Carbon fiber made of PAN precursor high strength, standard modulus 3500-5000 200-280 1.4-2.0 1.75-1.80
high strength, intermediate modulus 4500-7000 280-325 1.7-2.1 1.73-1.81
high modulus 3500-5000 325-450 0.7-1.4 1.75-1.85
ultra high modulus 2500-4000 450-600 0.7-1.0 1.85-1.95
Glass E-glass 2500-3800 70-75 4.5-4.7 2.5-2.7
S-glass 4000-4500 80-90 5.0-5.3 2.5
Organic Aramid 3000-3600 60-180 2.4-3.6 1.45
Polyethylene 200-3000 5-170 3-80 0.96
Steel high strength 1200-2800 200 3.5 7.8
stainless 800-2000 190 3.0 7.8
Basalt 3000-4800 90-110 3.0 2.6-2.8
Boron 3500-4000 350-400 0.5-0.7 2.6

Applications


Carbon fiber is the most widely used polymer material for making structural elements and sleek aerodynamic panels of race cars and supercars.

The majority of well-known automotive companies produce vehicles with bodies containing 50% of carbon fiber aiming to improve performance of the modern concept cars and make them visually attractive.

Composites are used to make various wear parts for automobiles. This means longer life and heavier duty performance for tires, rims, brake pads, and better clutch performance for clutch plates.

Carbon composites are used to make seat frames, gear sticks, dashboards, and decorative panels for eye-catching appearance and longer life of the vehicle interior.

Carbon and aramid fibers are widely used in racing wear. This includes back protectors, suits, helmets, carbon insert boots, gloves, and more. Such outfit looks attractive, improves safety and comfort (light weight is critical for helmets).


Nowadays, the bodies of virtually all concept cars from the well-known auto majors contain more than 50% of carbon fiber composites.

50% от объёма кузова составляют детали из углекомпозитов

Historical background

The history of using composites in automotive engineering dates back to the 1960s when the new technologies emerged and the aerospace industry was developing.

The automotive industry started using lightweight, strong, and rigid carbon composites in motor racing. These material properties are critical for motor racing, since a race car can come in faster.

Experience


Formula 1® race cars with composite chassis let the driver walk away from a crash scene after a collision at a speed of more than 200 mph.

The Italian ATR Group known for their works for Ferrari, Porsche, and Bugatti is one of the largest manufacturers of automotive composites.

The new generation BMW i-series exemplifies an efficient use of composites. The vehicle now weighs 300 kg less with roof braces, B and C pillars, side skirts, and central tunnel of carbon composite material.

Summary

Carbon composites play an important role in automotive engineering. Visually attractive and intricate shapes are made of this strong and lightweight material.


Currently, supercars are the main consumers of carbon fiber composites. Though, technologies are evolving, and the contemporary industry’s focus on innovative materials will eventually reduce the net cost of carbon composites and promote these materials for making stock cars.