Carbon Fiber: a lightweight, corrosion-resistant, reinforced polymer that is considered by most to be the all-star of the automotive industry. A single carbon fiber rod may appear unassuming at first – it’s a very lightweight sheet of woven, black fibers. It always surprises people, however, to learn that this lightweight black material can transport a man to the moon. That’s right, it is so incredibly resistant to damage that it is the ideal candidate for spacecraft manufacturing.
But let’s bring our heads back to earth for now, where carbon fiber is already being used to create incredibly damage-resistant and lightweight vehicles that can take on all of Mother Nature’s terrains. Your favorite high-end sports cars now utilize carbon fiber for almost the entirety of their bodywork, from the inner monocoque to the exterior rooftops. This is for good reason, like machining and cutting carbon fiber is very expensive.
Despite the cost limitations, carbon fiber isn’t limited to supercars anymore. Companies are coming up with innovative ways to make carbon fiber manufacturing affordable so they can add it to daily use cars, and ordinary consumers also can reap its benefits. This article goes over 6 daily use cars that utilize carbon fiber in their manufacturing process.
1. BMW i3
Image credit: BMW USA. https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/bmwi/i3/sedan/all-electric.html
An all-electric transmission that provides the option to have an engine housed underneath a sheath of lightweight carbon fiber panels; the BMW i3 is an astonishingly innovative product. And the best part? Unlike its multi-million dollar sports car carbon fiber counterparts, this compact little car comes under $50,000.
BMW has proven itself to be a leader in carbon fiber manufacturing projects. At its very own carbon fiber plant in Moses, Washington, carbon fiber composites are produced and later shipped out to Europe, where cars like the i3 are assembled. CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic) is the main composite which is used in BMW cars. What makes the i3 stand apart is that it unassumingly has a monocoque carbon fiber chassis, which is something that many did not see coming.
Sustainable automotive engineering has grown considerably in the past decade, and BMW was one of many that rose to meet this newfound demand. Electric cars consume no petrol and are thus considered more environmentally friendly. The BMW i3 features a very lightweight, compact body that balances the heavy electric battery and engine. Carbon Fiber makes this possible, as it is 5 times lighter than steel, yet considerably stronger.
The innovative architecture of the i3 includes two elements:
- A drive-module which includes the drive systems, chassis and energy storage. This part of the car is made of coated aluminum carriers and aluminum castings.
- A life-module which makes up the passenger compartment. This module is made entirely out of CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic) which makes it lightweight. The two modules balance each other out and create a sustainable end product.
The i3 was the first mass production car with most of its internal structure and body made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic.
2. BMW 7 Series
Image credit: BMW USA. https://www.bmwusa.com/vehicles/7-series/sedan/overview.html
A flagship, full-size sedan with extensive CNC carbon fiber core construction; the BMW 7 Series is built to impress. With this sleek mobile, BMW once again makes use of its carbon fiber compound – the CFRP (carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic). Carbon Core is the term used by the company to describe the carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel made cell that surrounds the passenger compartment.
Instead of building an all carbon fiber car, which would soar considerably in terms of price, BMW opts for a more practical approach. The aluminum and steel passenger cell is reinforced with CFRP where needed. The areas made of CFRP include the windshield, door sills, transmission tunnel, front-to-back, and left-to-right roof reinforcement tubes and bows, the B-pillar between the front and rear doors, the C-pillar, and the rear parcel shelf.
The G11 and G12 are the sixth generations in this series, and they utilize carbon fiber construction. The carbon core chassis of these vehicles are strategically designed to be lightweight, rigid, and safe. This clever chassis engineering helps BMW create high-performance cars while maintaining efficiency.
One of the benefits of carbon fiber construction is saving in terms of weight. The BMW 7 series has a core that is 86kg lighter than the previous generation. Despite this, it still manages to serve up a considerable 320 in horsepower and 330 lb.-ft. of torque. The future lies in lightweight, high-performance carbon fiber cars, and BMW is spearheading this movement for daily-use vehicles.
3. Toyota Prius Prime
Image credit: Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/2017-Toyota-Prius-Prime-Advanced/dp/B01NBC7LYL
The furthest a Prius car has ever gone in terms of technological advancement by including a Plug-in charging system for its battery, earning the title of ‘Prime’ in its name. This hybrid electric/fuel car actually features a carbon Fiber trunk! A Prius is a household name for most consumers, but not one that you would commonly associate with a premium material like carbon fiber. Advancements in carbon Fiber production have, however, allowed Toyota to use it in their manufacturing process without letting prices soar out of control.
Toyota uses a carbon fiber compound known as SMC (Carbon fiber sheet molded compound), which it produces in Japan. The installation of the part has had a 40 to 50 percent weight reduction, which gives way to improved efficiency and an elevated driving experience. But the company claims that installing carbon fiber is about more than just weight reduction, it has also allowed the designers to improve cabin and storage space while allowing for narrower rear pillars, so drivers have an improved line of sight.
4. Lexus LC
Image credit: Auto blog. https://www.autoblog.com/buy/2018-Lexus-LC+500h/specs/
Toyota’s ultimately successful effort to break away from its image as a boring SUV producer; the ultra-sleek Lexus LC is a luxury daily use car that offers Carbon Fiber structures at relatively affordable prices.
The Lexus LC 500 is accented with carbon fiber door structures. It also includes other lightweight structures, such as the aluminum door skins and the trunk frame that is made of a composite material. True fans can even opt for the $5,960 Performance Package, which elevates carbon fiber from an accent to the center of attention. It comes with an available carbon-fiber roof.
Consumers looking into this car should bear in mind that despite its carbon fiber structures, the Lexus LC is designed to be the opposite of a lightweight. It weighs nearly 2,000 kg, and comes with considerable width as well.
5. Audi A8
Image credit: Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/2020-Audi-A8-Quattro/dp/B07YKZN18V
An intelligent, hybrid engine encompassed within a bodywork that gives you a new perspective on design sophistication. The Audi A8 series features balanced proportions and complex carbon-fiber add-ons for a premium lightweight driving experience.
The A8, A8L, and the S8 family of cars utilize an all-aluminum chassis. This chassis is marketed as the Audi Space Frame. Audi has recently introduced carbon Fiber-reinforced plastics into the mix. These carbon fiber composites, when incorporated, account for a decent proportion of the car’s structural rigidity and safety.
6. Mercedes C-class
Image credit: TheCarConnection. https://www.thecarconnection.com/overview/mercedes-benz_c-class_2020
Mercedes, another German juggernaut that refuses to shy away from carbon-Fiber composites, also features carbon Fiber add-ons on its cars. These include exterior side mirror carbon Fiber covering and a carbon fiber spoiler lip. The AMG variant even features carbon Fiber splitters and diffusers in the package. Mercedes, like most other manufacturers, has its eyes set on bringing better materials to its non-performance variants, but it takes a different approach by incorporating recycled plastic which improves the manufacturing line sustainability.
While the car itself does not offer carbon Fiber materials, the inclusion of carbon Fiber add-ons may be enough to satisfy fans of both carbon fiber and Mercedes Benz. Mercedes has brought most of its attention to natural fiber-reinforced composites to make their cars lighter and reduce waste.
Carbon Fiber, the hero of the automotive industry, is not restricted from the ordinary consumer for much longer. Carbon Fiber and carbon fiber composites may be expensive, but technological innovations continue to startle us, and prices will likely continue to go down. Soon enough, these would become an essential component to ensure enhancement in the experience. If you’d like to know more about high-end cars that utilize carbon fiber, be sure to check out our article on “5 super sports cars which utilize carbon fiber in manufacturing”.