As manufacturers look for ways to cut weight and complexity from their cars, a growing number of components are being made from carbon fiber. The high-tech weave balances weight and strength like few other materials, and modern manufacturing processes are making it more affordable than ever. Ford and Magna have now used carbon fiber to develop subframes, cutting weight and complexity in the process.
You might not know much about Magna – they're not a big car manufacturer, after all – but the Canadian supplier has been in the business for more than 50 years. The company has worked in tandem with Ford to develop a prototype carbon subframe which delivers a 34-percent weight saving compared to a regular steel unit.
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By using two molded pieces and four metallic joints, the prototype also involves 87 percent fewer individual parts than a traditional steel assembly. The benefits of this are mighty, and apply across the board. Not only does cutting weight up front help with fuel consumption, it should make cars more fun to drive. Meanwhile, the additional stiffness of carbon fiber should make a difference when it comes time to crash test.
After all, subframes aren't just there to attach crucial components like the engine and wheels to the chassis, they're also integral parts of the complex crash structures in modern cars.
Having passed all the necessary in-computer tests, the subframe will now be tested in the real world by Ford. If the components can survive the requisite corrosion, stone-chipping and bolt-load retention testing, don't be surprised to see them appearing in production vehicles down the road.
Even if the carbon fiber subframe doesn't make it to production, you'll still be able to find the lightweight weave in a growing number of places. Ford offer wheels wrought in carbon fiber, while BMW has been using it to lower the center of gravity in M Division-cars since the early 2000s.