Automotive fiberglass pioneer Corvette will add carbon-fiber parts to its offerings, with limited editions of the General Motors Corp. sports car featuring the composite in its hood.
As many as 3,000 of the 2004 Z06 Commemorative Edition will hit the streets starting later this year, with a 20.5-pound hood using carbon fiber for both the painted surface and its structural substrates.
``This application of carbon fiber is a major innovation, marking a significant milestone in performance and value for the industry,'' said Dave Hill, vehicle line executive and chief engineer for the Corvette.
It also follows a growing trend to take the composite from racetracks to high-end European roadsters and into more mainstream vehicles.
``There is a lot of interest out there,'' said Nancy Pottish, composites production line manager for MacLean Quality Composites LLC of West Jordan, Utah, in a May 28 telephone interview. MQC is overseeing production of the hood for sister company MacLean Vehicle Systems. ``Nobody has wanted to be the first to really bring it out, but now that GM has gone and made that move, we expect there will be others.''
MacLean Vehicle Systems and MacLean Quality Composites are part of MacLean-Fogg Co. of Chicago.
Carbon fiber made it into structural components for DaimlerChrysler AG's Dodge Viper sports car last year, using a specially developed version of sheet molded compound.
The carbon-fiber SMC - provided by Meridian Automotive Systems to MacLean - also goes into the structural underpinning of the hood, with the Utah company bonding it with a urethane adhesive to a carbon-fiber/epoxy-prepreg exterior skin, Pottish said. It is the first North American vehicle using the composite for a Class A surface.
Bringing the material up to automotive production standards took years of development work by the firm, which also produces components for sporting goods and recreational equipment, she said. The exterior skin cannot have any flaws - no pinholes, no abrasions. The final gloss paint applied at GM's Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant will point out any manufacturing defects.
``These requirements are so much higher than anything we've ever done,'' she said.
The painted surface, though, still will show the distinctive fiber pattern of the material. That could be an important bragging point for car aficionados who are turning more and more to optional carbon-fiber trim systems to individualize their rides. Pottish noted that a recent trade show for automotive aftermarket products featured a wide mix of the composite.
``There was carbon fiber everywhere, more than I've seen outside of our own events,'' she said. ``It's just exploding.''
The Corvette program also will help MacLean expand. It is ramping up production for the car now, and expects to add employees and another shift to its current base of 75 people.
``We expect this project is the first of many automotive applications for our carbon-fiber technology, from body panels to structural components,'' said Jeff Keller, vice president and general manager of plastics and composites for MacLean Vehicle Systems.