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Carbon fiber continues its auto growth

By: Rhoda Miel

January 17, 2014

DETROIT — The auto industry is continuing to dream in carbon fiber. And those dreams are increasingly making it to the street.

Both General Motors Co. and BMW AG introduced cars at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 13 that use more carbon fiber composites than their previous models.

The Chevrolet Corvette Z06 has a standard removable carbon fiber roof panel — so drivers have an open air option without losing their composite cover. The Z06 follows up on 2013's introduction of the Corvette Stingray, with a carbon fiber hood and fixed roof.

BMW's new M3 sedan and M4 coupe both have carbon fiber roof systems.

The M series' use of composites is key to reducing about 80 kilograms of weight from both models. Ian Robertson, a member of the BMW board of manager and the head of sales and marketing for BMW, said the project also shows that the German automaker's investment in carbon fiber material production in Moses Lake, Wash., and molding capabilities in Germany will continue to play a part in future vehicles.

BMW, based in Munich, Germany, is also bringing its all-electric i3 to North America in May. The i3 has an all carbon fiber structure, and first went on sale in Europe in December.

Toyota Motor Corp. of Toyota City, Japan, developed in-house processing capabilities for carbon fiber for its Lexus division, but with the FT-1 concept car, it is intended to help show the company's passion for cars within the main Toyota brand.

"At Toyota, we make great vehicles with great quality, but what [company leader Akio Toyoda] wanted us to do is to make a car you fall in love with," said William Chergosky, project design manager at Toyota's Calty Design Research group.

For the concept car, the Calty designers were given the freedom not only to create something to "make the heart flutter," as Toyoda put it, but imagine production that is not quite viable at this time.

The FT-1's carbon fiber exterior door panel, for example, was envisioned as being made in one large mold in one step, Chergosky said.

The large one-piece hood swoops down for a split front end with exposed carbon fiber trim that would skim over the surface.

"Creating that particular face, that's something that evolved just looking at some of the aero considerations we had," Chergosky said.

Aerodynamics also played into the use of carbon fiber exterior trim in the Q50 Eau Rouge concept from Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s Infiniti luxury brand.

Unlike a pure concept car, the Eau Rouge is intended to indicate what future production could be, "if [Infiniti] was to build a performance version of the Q50."

In this case, designers and engineers with the Tokyo-based automaker created what they termed a "bespoke" carbon fiber trim that would also serve to cool the rear brakes.

Infiniti wants to use the curving capabilities available through molding to funnel passing air directly where it is needed to improve the brakes on the sports car.

The carbon fiber would then not only be a styling point for the Eau Rouge, but also enhance performance, the company said.