The Nikkei reported that Toray Industries Inc., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. will work together to develop a new carbon fiber material for use in auto bodies, with the goal of developing mass-market carbon fiber cars.
The group aims to establish mass production technology for the new material by the mid-2010s. By replacing most of the steel used in cars, they hope to develop vehicles up to 40% lighter than their steel counterparts.
Carbon fiber boasts one-quarter the weight of iron, but is 10 times as strong. High prices have been a major obstacle to the widespread use of carbon fiber in cars: 1 kg of carbon fiber costs several thousand yen, compared with slightly more than 100 yen for steel and 300-400 yen for aluminum. As steel prices will likely continue rising, in part because of increasing market dominance by the three top iron ore mining companies, the price gap between steel and carbon fiber is expected to narrow over time. Unlike steel, carbon fiber has significant room for increases in production.
Steel accounts for about three-quarters of the average car weight in Japan of around 1,350 kg (2,976 lbs). Using carbon fiber to replace steel in key parts could cut vehicle weight by up to 40%, to slightly above an average 800 kg (1,800 lbs). This could improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide by approximately 30% per car.
Today, steel accounts for three-quarters of the average car weight of around 1,350 kg. By replacing most of the steel used in key parts with carbon fiber, the weight can be reduced by up to 40% to slightly above 800 kg (1,800 lbs). This is expected to improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30%, or 0.7 ton, per car a year.
Textile firms Mitsubishi Rayon Co. and Toyobo Co., plastic parts maker Takagi Seiko Corp., and researchers from the University of Tokyo will also participate in the joint effort. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is providing ¥2 billion (US$18.5 million) in funding for the project over 5 years.