Ford Motor Co. has signed a deal with a carbon-fiber manufacturer to jointly explore “high-volume” automotive uses for the lightweight material.
The agreement with DowAksa, a joint venture of the Dow Chemical Co. and a Turkish company, builds on an arrangement that Ford announced in January as it unveiled the GT supercar, which will be made largely of carbon fiber and aluminum when it goes on sale in extremely limited numbers next year.
Ford already has shown its commitment to reducing vehicle weight with the aluminum-bodied F-150, and it says carbon fiber can take that strategy even further without compromising safety or vehicle capabilities. The industry's challenge is cutting the price of carbon fiber to the point that it's feasible for mass-market cars and trucks.
“This joint development agreement reinforces Ford's commitment to our partnership with DowAksa, and our drive to bring carbon fiber components to the broader market," Mike Whitens, director of vehicle enterprise sciences for Ford Research & Advanced Engineering, said in a statement. “The goal of our work here fits within the company's Blueprint for Sustainability, where future Ford vehicles will be lighter with optimized performance that would help consumers further improve fuel economy and reduce emissions.”
Ford has said carbon-fiber body panels and other elements will give the GT, whose 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine will produce more than 600 hp, one of the best power-to-weight ratios of any production vehicle. But it plans to sell only 250 of the cars annually due to carbon-fiber production constraints.
The agreement between Ford and DowAksa involves research for now, but could lead to a commercial manufacturing partnership, the companies said. DowAksa is a 50-50 joint venture between Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical Co. and Aksa Akrilik Kimya Sanayil AS of Turkey.
“Automotive manufacturers' use of carbon fiber composites has been hindered by the absence of both high-volume manufacturing methods and affordable material formats,” DowAska Vice Chairman Mehmet Ali Berkman said in Ford's statement. “This partnership combines the individual strengths of each company to target these challenges.”