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Ford displays prototype Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic hood

Prototype CFRP hood. Click to enlarge.

At the Composites Europe event in Dusseldorf, Ford Motor Company displayed a prototype carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) hood. The prototype hood weighs more than 50% less than a standard steel version.

As a result of progress made during an on-going Hightech.NRW research project involving engineers from the Ford European Research Centre, production time for an individual carbon fiber hood is fast enough to be employed on a production line—a significant step towards increased usage of lightweight materials in Ford vehicles.

Carbon fiber offers a very high strength-to-weight ratio; it is up to five times as strong as steel, twice as stiff, and one-third the weight. Ford says that advanced materials such as carbon fiber are key to it plans to reduce the weight of its cars by up to 340 kg (750 lbs) by the end of the decade.

It’s no secret that reducing a vehicle’s weight can deliver major benefits for fuel consumption, but a process for fast and affordable production of carbon fiber automotive parts in large numbers has never been available. By partnering with materials experts through the Hightech.NRW research project, Ford is working to develop a solution that supports cost efficient manufacturing of carbon fiber components.

—Inga Wehmeyer, advanced materials and processes research engineer, Ford European Research Centre

Ford has partnered with specialists from the Institute of Automotive Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, Henkel, Evonik, IKV (Institute of Plastics Processing), Composite Impulse and Toho Tenax for the course of the Hightech.NRW research project.

The project team is using a refined gap-impregnation process, which works by introducing resin to pre-formed carbon fiber textile material in a fast, stable and adaptable manner, with high quality results.

Initial testing suggests that CFRP components such as the prototype Ford Focus hood will meet Ford’s standards for stiffness, dent resistance and crash performance. The component has also performed well in pedestrian protection head-impact tests, dueto its innovative construction of a special foam core sandwiched between two layers of CFRP.

Funded by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the project began in 2010 and is scheduled to continue until September 2013. Targets include:

  • Developing a cost-effective method to manufacture carbon fiber composites for body panel applications that can be incorporated into existing vehicle production processes.

  • Significantly reducing individual component production times.

  • Reducing the amount of finishing work required to acceptable standards.

  • Meeting requirements for painting.

  • At least 50% reduction in component weight.

In addition to the involvement of Ford European Research Centre in the Hightech.NRW research project, Ford is collaborating with Dow Automotive Systems to investigate new materials, design processes and manufacturing techniques. (Earlier post.) Dow Automotive Systems and Ford will focus on establishing an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fiber, as well as high-volume manufacturing methods.

There are two ways to reduce energy use in vehicles: improving the conversion efficiency of fuels to motion and reducing the amount of work that powertrains need to do. Ford is tackling the conversion problem primarily through downsizing engines with EcoBoost and electrification while mass reduction and improved aerodynamics are keys to reducing the workload.

—Paul Mascarenas, Ford chief technical officer and vice president, Research and Innovation



These Ford guys are the ones to compete with Asia, though the new Dodge Dart is a relatively nice ride.


Is it thermoplastic or thermoset?


One mini-micro-step that could have been taken 20+ years ago. Over 90% of the car body could be made with 50+% lighter composites and/or re-enforced plastics. Frames, Wheels, engines +++ could be made of much lighter aluminum alloys.

The average 3600 lbs car could be reduced to 1800 lbs.

Lighter electrified vehicles could go much further with same batteries.

Next phase would be to make most (46%) drivers and passengers 50% lighter?


I've been involved with composites for many years. Aerospace does it in the most labor/detail intensive method possible, with the cost reflecting the quality. A recent experimental aircraft project clearly illustrates the composite advantage, A 400 pound weight savings on a 1600Lb aircraft, with significantly less complexity and greater strength. (an MX2 vs Extra 300L)

Ford will do well integrate production level carbon fiber into everyday automobiles. Done properly, the stunning decrease in structural complexity will translate into roomier small cars and simpler manufacturing processes. Not to mention the incredible performance advantages.

Dave R

The weight savings appear to compare to using aluminum.

The question is what is cheaper and more durable?


The car companies could not have done this 20 years ago at any reasonable cost.
That is for several reasons, but the biggest one was that the curing times were far too long to enable them to be integrated into a mass production line.
BMW and now Ford have tackled this issue amongst a host of others, and so CF parts are now slowly entering mass car production.

I believe both materials are being combined for different functions.
For instance for the BMW i3:

'For the i3, the bottom half of the car is the Drive section, and is made mostly of lightweight aluminum; the Life passenger compartment sits on top and is built from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). Employing these lightweight materials keeps the i3's weight down to just 2750 pounds.'

Bob Wallace

Houses, well built houses, last hundreds of years. Sure, there's ongoing maintenance and sometimes major repairs but that never is a severe as building a new house.

Might we move to the same model for cars? We need to working toward sustainability. Perhaps everything should be modular. Swap out parts and systems as needed. Offer new interior or exterior treatments when the old gets shabby.

Moving to non-corroding structural elements would possibly give us a permanent frame on which to quickly bolt everything else.

EVs are so simple. A new battery pack should be installable in less than an hour. Same for a new motor. A few bearings in the drive train and you've got a brand new propulsion system.

Interior looking ratty? In a few hours the old seats, side panels, carpets, etc. could be pulled out and a brand new look installed.

One car company (Smart?) has already played around with exchangeable body parts and the aftermarket is full of them.


I agree with you Bob, this economic system where you have to renew car models every 5 years is just ridiculous. a well build car could last 30 years not 7 or 8


With automation coming to take an ever increasing role, but one which can't be fully deployed in one go, than I would imagine that we are in for one of the fastest changing times in car building, not slowing down.
That is aside from questions such as the electrification of cars, fuel cells, electric roads etc.


@ Davemart:

You are wrong again. My last American monster (a 1992 Buick - 20 years ago) had re-enforced plastic hood, truck lid and door exterior covers. Those parts never failed but the rest of the car failed regularly. A/C maintenance was over $1000/year and never worked properly. Original G...Y... early radial tires lasted less than 20,000 miles of very bumpy ride etc. I was very happy to get rid of that dinosaur.

I followed my wife (an ex-F..d user) recommendation and converted to trouble free Toyota vehicles and been satisfied since.


@ BW:

You are correct but our Big 3 were and still are masters of built-in obsolescence.

Big 3 cars turn into a pile or rust after 5 years (an often less) when driven over salted roads. A Toyota Camry (untreated) is still rust free after 15 years on the same roads. Big 3 A/C units fail regularly almost every year.

A Toyota Camry A/C worked 100% without maintenance for 15+ years. The list could go on for pages.

The above observations are not hearsay. We (and many others) have experienced it.


@Harvey D:
The subject we were discussing was carbon fibre, not plastic.
I also made no comment on the degree to which obsolescence may have been planned in in the past, and simply said that increasing automation and other changes make it unlikely that we would want to keep cars for 30 year now, aside from the fact that legislative changes will likely make that difficult or impossible.
I am heartily glad that your 1992 Buick, emitting enormous amounts of pollution as well as, of course, endangering it's occupants by inadequate safety by modern standards is rare on the roads now.


They couldn't do this 20 years ago (as Davemart sez) and Detroit did not intentionally build-in obsolescence and there was never a 150 mpg carburetor and the EV1 was not viable.

I have owned or worked on Rabbits, Audis, Fiats, and others that were as rust prone as any Detroit monster.

Some Volvos, MBs and others were long lived, at one time, but no more.

You want to show off your ability to throw good money after bad; try an imported luxury car (except from Japan).

Bob Wallace

I'm not sure that the 'Big 3' are still working toward built-in obsolescence. They no longer dominate vehicle manufacturing and, in general, seem to have greatly increased quality over the last few years.

Some of the foreign manufacturers may turn out a higher quality, longer lasting vehicle but American manufactures can't rely on repeat customers keeping them in business like they could 20 years ago. Our access to information has grown so much that false advertising is becoming less and less effective. Toyota is now the big dog. The Big 3 are now competing against a company emphasizes quality.


Bob W makes a point, "EVs are so simple. A new battery pack should be installable in less than an hour. Same for a new motor. A few bearings in the drive train and you've got a brand new propulsion system..old seats, side panels, carpets, etc. could be pulled out and a brand new look installed."

If present EV range only covers 90% of trips, add a small ICE genset for the recharge to maintain an Interstate 70 mph.

The savings without 6+..speed ICE transmissions, less weight, constant/max efficiency ICE, if needed should make this possible.

Some sporting fun? Maybe some super capacitors for occasional 5 sec 0-60 mph.

Tweaked, in-scale - even present tech could economically offer this flexibility.

CA gas prices today are everyone's tomorrow.

Bob Wallace

OK, if it turns out that shorter lifetime vehicles make more sense, then how do we get to sustainability?

Carbon fiber can be recycled, but not easily. Metals are very recyclable. Do we look for second life uses for carbon fiber body parts?


Yes BW....vehicles are getting better, specially since the Big 3 lost their leading role. Too bad it didn't happen 40 years ago. The world may have had practical electrified vehicles 15 to 20 years ago. Yes, Toyota builds rugged long lasting, trouble free vehicles. We (and many millions) are living witnesses.


Carbon fibre degrades in sunlight, but as far as the carbon part is concerned it really doesn't matter too much, as there is plenty of carbon.
Recycling is mainly an issue for the resins which are used in the fibre.
Some take great note of the energy content of cars, which is an issue which pretty much boils down to how polluting the energy source is.


DM....we sell enough clean very low cost Hydro to Ontario to energize all the car factories established there and could sell 10X more if the market was there.

This is not done because the Coal, NG and Nuke lobbies will not allow it. This may change shortly due to the very high cost of older Ontario's CANDU Nuke sites re-conditioning and repairs (up to $6.5B per reactor-site or about the same as a new site) and going up every month. The cost of keeping the used fuel around for the next 300+ years is still an unknown.

After 25 years of operation, our only remaining CANDU Nuke site will be de-commissioned on 28 Dec 2012 due to high repair-maintenance cost and current excess lower cost hydro electricity.

Bob Wallace

Harvey, who is "we" with all this hydro to sell?

I can imagine that fossil fuel and nuclear interests would like to keep it off the US grid, but they are loosing political power as renewables grow and people become more aware of the problems with traditional energy sources.

A bunch of hydro to fill in for wind and solar should be very popular in the US.


Harvey D:
Most of us do not live in Ontario.


Check out the full environmental impact of hydro, including greenhouse gas emissions from decaying vegetation.

Bob Wallace

Dave - there's some bogus stuff going around re: hydro and decaying vegetation. It seems to have started based on a piece of research done on a very shallow lake in South America. A lot of acreage was covered by only a few feet of water and, obviously, the amount of CO2/methane from the rotting vegetation was high.

There have been ridiculous claims about dropping water levels during the summer allowing large amounts of vegetation to grow and then get covered when the winter rains start. One person even claimed that brush grew on the exposed banks. Banks that are exposed for only a few weeks per year.

Anyone who has been around reservoirs in the west knows that's bunk. Nothing much grows on the exposed banks. That's also true for the TVA lakes with which I have experience.

It is true that there could be releases over the first year or two with a new dam. But that could be minimized.

When a new dam was built in the Sierra foothills a few years back they opened up the area to be flooded and let people harvest firewood. Then, IIRC, they grazed the land down before flooding.

We don't need to leave vegetation to rot. There are alternatives.


DM...all (100%) of the cars made in Canada (about 1.6 M to 1.8M/year) are built in Ontario.

We, are the 8M people who own our hydro production facilities and distribution grid. This publicly own hydro has a 3.5B/year net profit, re-invest $1.5B/year in new facilities


A few extensive study revealed that most of the dead wood/vegetation and methane released in flooded areas faded out almost completely after 10 years. After that, it goes below pre-flooding levels. That's a very very short time for mother nature.

The effect on local animal life was extremely positive. Caribou's population in the adjacent areas went up almost 10x (from 17,000 to over 160,000) in less than 20 years after flooding. Many of those who predicted the extinction of local wild life were offered jobs as (commercial) Caribou hunters but they refused and preferred to let the Caribou die from over population.

The artificial lakes created are now full of trouts and salmons and have become fishermen's paradise.

The above good-positive news do not find there way on many front pages because they are reserved for bad news.

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