Ford Motors is one of the few automakers that are determined to invest in the development of lightweight materials as a means to cut vehicle weight, in order to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions, opting to bet on carbon fiber as the best alternative to steel, which has been the most widely used material in the auto industry for decades. The U.S. manufacturer has been involved in various programs aimed at reducing carbon-fiber costs for a while now, and recently unveiled the new GT which uses a body made entirely out of carbon fiber and is set to become one of the very few cars with a carbon-fiber body on sale pretty soon.
Now, the company is ramping up its efforts towards mass production of carbon-fiber cars, deepening its strategic partnership with DowAksa, one of the leading manufacturers of carbon-fiber components, in an attempt to accelerate research aimed at improving this technology and making it a viable automotive material. The Dearborn-based automaker has signed a contract with DowAksa, which is a joint venture of Turkish company Aksa Akrilik Kimya Sanayii and Dow Chemical, that should result in high-volume production of carbon-fiber components for the automotive market.
“This joint development agreement reinforces Ford’s commitment to our partnership with DowAksa, and our drive to bring carbon fiber components to the broader market,” said Mike Whitens, director, Vehicle Enterprise Sciences, Ford Research & Advanced Engineering, in a company press release. “The goal of our work here fits within the company’s Blueprint for Sustainability, where future Ford vehicles will be lighter with optimized performance that would help consumers further improve fuel economy and reduce emissions.”
With this deal, Ford intends to utilize its partner’s capacity for high-volume manufacturing, which, paired with its own design and engineering experience, should lead to production of more affordable carbon-fiber parts that would be used across Ford’s entire product line.
Carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) is a material that is about 50% lighter than steel, so replacing steel parts with carbon-fiber ones can reduce a car’s weight drastically, resulting in lower fuel consumption and lower carbon emissions. Carbon fiber is significantly lighter than aluminum, as well, which many automakers use to reduce the weight of cars. But, the problem is that at the moment, it is considerably more expensive than other materials used for automotive parts, costing as much as $12 a pound, whereas the price for a pound of steel is less than half a dollar.
While carbon-fiber costs have dropped a lot over the past couple of years, it is still too expensive to be used in mass-produced cars, and that’s the issue that Ford is trying to address by partnering up with DowAksa. According to a study that was recently published by the IHS, cars’ overall weight must be reduced by 30% so that they can meet stricter fuel-economy standards that will go into effect in 2025. At the moment, only BMW offers mass-market models that use carbon-fiber bodies, the all electric i3 and the plug-in hybrid i8.