Underscoring its commitment to find new ways to improve fuel economy throughout its entire product portfolio by significantly cutting curb weights, Ford Motor Company displayed a prototype hood for a Ford Focus made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) at the Composites Europe event in Dusseldorf, Germany. While not slated for immediate high-volume application, the automaker announced that it can now produce the component - which weighs less than half of a steel equivalent - quickly enough to have it be used as a production part. It also advised that other CFRP parts also are currently under development.

Ford execs said this latest advance came about as part of an ongoing program with the Ford European Research Center and various other organizations involved in the Hightech.NRW research project, a 4-year co-operative undertaking funded by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and set to run until 2013. The company plans to use carbon fiber and CFRP along with a number of other advanced mass-reducing materials to slice up to 750 pounds out of its next-generation vehicles, and to achieve that ambitious goal by 2020.

In addition to being far lighter than steel, carbon fiber is up to five times as strong and twice as stiff, qualities that have made it the favored core element of racing cars and other exotics for the last three decades. The downside to date has been cost, in both the manufacturing and finishing processes. To deal with that side of the equation, Ford partnered with Dow Automotive Systems earlier this year to investigate new materials, design processes and manufacturing techniques that will address those issues.

"It's no secret that reducing a vehicle's weight can deliver major benefits for fuel consumption, but a process for fast and affordable production of carbon fiber automotive parts in large numbers has never been available," said Inga Wehmeyer, advanced materials and processes research engineer, Ford European Research Center. "By partnering with materials experts through the Hightech.NRW research project, Ford is working to develop a solution that supports cost efficient manufacturing of carbon fiber components.

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