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

mikolavic

July 25, 2008 12:18 PM

Only a few years ago high-strength steel was too expensive for car manufacturing and here it is now, part of practically every car sold in Europe (I couldn't speak of how it is outside Europe, so I won't speculate). And Boeing and Airbus are going to start producing carbon fiber planes within the next couple of years. I imagine that it is not all that far fetched that someone could develop a cheaper way of producing carbon fiber. Of course, the Japanese seem to think this way, but then again, what will they know about making cars (without losing money in every one that they sell), right?

Guao

January 4, 2009 7:40 PM

Because of expensive high tensile strength steel,there is primary problem in the cold die sptamping process.
Because high tensile strength steel is extremely rigid,stamping die mould is gallin,seizuring,schuffing ,it can not keep long lifespan.
But Hitachi Metals which is also raw steel maker of japanese authentic sword was developed new durable tool steel for die stamping use,so product made from high tensile steel plate became non-expensive one.

Chai

January 17, 2009 7:29 PM

I think that it is more eco-friendly way than carbon fiber.
Carbon material is made from fossik fuel such as oil,if we use huge amount.

Jordan

April 30, 2009 2:14 AM

I have only one thing to say about carbon fibers:

"economies of scale"

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