There’s nothing new about a Ford Focus with a hood made of carbon fiber – in the age of the aftermarket tuner, all kinds of parts are available in carbon fiber for all kinds of cars. But a major automaker taking steps to mass-produce their cars with carbon fiber parts? Now, that’s new.
That’s exactly what is being explored with a new Ford Focus prototype, sporting a hood made of carbon fiber that uses new techniques to keep costs and production time down. Carbon fiber is not a new material and its benefits are well known – it’s both lighter and stronger than steel, which easily improves both safety and performance, namely, fuel economy.
But the process of molding carbon fiber is so expensive, takes so long and demands such specified experts that the material has been reserved for racecars or extremely high performance vehicles from the likes of Ferrari and McLaren.
That’s what makes the Ford Focus prototype such a landmark case. The Ford European Research Centre has worked with Dow Automotive Systems to find new, economical ways of implementing carbon fiber into consistent production.
Ford is very careful to reiterate that their mass-produced cars like the Focus, Mustang and Explorer will not be made of carbon fiber, in whole or in part, anytime soon. But the project is still notable because the material could drastically improve fuel efficiency at a time when Ford is racing to deliver higher MPG ratings to their customer base in the midst of record gas prices.
Ford is not the only automaker to explore opportunities to implement greater usage of carbon fiber. BMW used the material extensively in concepts like their i3, and a recent agreement with Toyota specifically hints that the partnership will lead to vehicles made with more carbon fiber.
It may be too expensive and take too long, but carbon fiber is almost assuredly the material of the future and any inroads to bring it to the showroom are welcome. Once a company like Ford figures out the hood, then the trunk can’t be far behind. Then the roof, mirrors and doors and before you know it, we’ll see the use of carbon fiber rise along with fuel efficiency ratings throughout the industry.