Are Japanese carmakers mulling carbon fiber cars?

Posted by: Ian Rowley on July 24, 2008

One of the benefits of soaring commodity prices is that alternative technologies, often superior but more costly, edge closer to becoming viable. But surely reports that coming out of Japan today that carbon fiber-based cars could be ready for the mass market in just a few year are a little far fetched?

According to the reports, Honda, Nissan and Toray Industries, a leading maker of carbon fiber, are poised to join forces and aim to find ways of mass producing carbon fiber which could replace “most of the steel used in cars” by the mid-2010s. To speed things along, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will provide $18.5 million of funding over five years and a host of over companies and researchers will join the efforts.

It’s easy to see the attraction of the carbon fiber. It’s stronger than iron and only a quarter of the weight. What’s more, by using carbon fiber instead of steel, cars could be 40% lighter and improve fuel economy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30%, reports Japan’s Nihon Keizai paper. (Showing off its green credentials, Toyota showed off a partially finished carbon fiber body at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show called the 1/X.)

Yet great as all that sounds, quite how any group will bring down costs of producing carbon fiber for mass production isn’t at all clear. Sure, carbon fiber is a fine material for Formula One cars and high-end bicycles, but even with commodity prices soaring, steel is is still several tens of times cheaper than carbon fiber to produce.

That could be why Nissan and Honda are both shying away from today’s Nihon Keizai article. Nissan says it is incorrect and Honda says the information isn’t from them.

Reader Comments

ballbuster

July 24, 2008 6:48 AM

A complete Carbon fiber body is still more expensive than aluminum. Even on a component comparison aluminum is still more economical to produce. Carbon fiber is a structural composite material where as aluminum alloy is a heterogenous material. Body work on a composite body will entail complicated high tech labor and technique. To wit: manufacturing Boeing 787 carbon fiber fuselage. The orientation of the fiber strand gives the carbon fiber directional strength. Hence, body repair must duplicate the fiber strand orientation. Today's fiber glass body found in Saturn or Corvette body is bolted on metal frame which provides the structural rigidity. Carbon fiber body does double duty: body shape and structural strength. 787's is not parked at WalMart subjected to ding, bumps, and bruises. Hence, cars with carbon fiber is a long way off.

Higgy

July 25, 2008 1:33 PM

This would be amazing if true.

http://www.buyingadvice.com/

rachel

September 10, 2008 11:41 AM

a carbon fiber car would withstand simple dents and dings .it is strong enough to go into space and we have seen it punished with a sledge without a scratch. the main concept is it will save lives because of its strength.

Ferddy

October 24, 2008 2:16 PM

Carbon fiber is very strong but must have a thick clear coat skin much like a standard auto epoxy to protect it from the elements which chips easily.

tk

November 10, 2008 5:56 PM

high expense of carbon fiber is not much of a factor. From whole systems perspective, carbon fiber should make the car cheaper due to reducing the size of or completely removing the capital cost of components that are dependent on weight.

Ed

November 22, 2008 2:53 AM

The cost to produce steel does not include the environmental damage the mining and refining causes. Some countries regulate the industry consequently some of these costs are included in those countries. On the whole, the costs are not included. I would conjecture that the cost comparison of carbon vs. steel is similar to comparing apples and oranges.

Eric

February 15, 2009 9:01 AM

In additon,most famous strength material maker in Japan ,Hitachi says "Carbon fiber is made from fossil fuel and strengthening is limited in one direction.After all,this is not green material and it is impossible to make wide-spreaded perspectives of this material."

Racer986jec

September 28, 2009 6:26 PM

Certainly yes, parts such as doors hood fenders and radiator supports but as CFRP composite frame car can not last the punishment of non perfect roads and let alone crash test safety standards. Just take this simple principle of an aluminum soda can , when it is crushed the goes thru an energy absorption process and flattens, when a honeycomb carbon fiber item were to be crushed it would fracture and splinter. It would be a technological learning process of composite bodies for street use and will take time time before you see that happen. with that said you will see advance methods of plastics components being used rather then carbon fiber.

carbon fiber after a while becomes brittle and fractures and is expensive.

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