* Ford, Dow partner to explore mass use of carbon fiber
* Carbon fiber pricey, but stronger, lighter than steel
* Ford, others seek to cut weight through lighter materials
By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT, April 12 Ford Motor Co and Dow Chemical
Co will work to develop cost-effective ways of using carbon
fiber in high-volume cars and trucks as the No.2 U.S. automaker
moves to cut vehicle weight to improve overall fuel economy.
The joint venture with Dow Automotive Systems mean Ford
could start using components made from advanced carbon
fiber composites in its vehicle lineup before the end of this
decade. Dow Automotive is a unit of Dow Chemical.
Weight reduction is one way for automakers to boost the
efficiency of their fleets in anticipation of rising oil prices
and stricter fuel economy standards for upcoming model years.
By 2020, Ford aims to cut between 250 pounds and 750 pounds
from its new cars and trucks, partly by using lighter materials.
Shedding that weight will reduce the strain on the vehicle's
engine, allowing it to wring out more miles per gallon.
Lighter materials can also help Ford improve the range of
its electric and hybrid vehicles on a single charge.
"Reducing weight will benefit the efficiency of every Ford
vehicle," said Paul Mascarenas, Ford's chief technical officer.
"However, it's particularly critical to improving the range of
plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles."
The Obama administration said automakers would have to boost
the average fuel efficiency of their cars and trucks to 54.5
miles per gallon by the 2025 model year.
Preliminary U.S. data shows that the average fuel economy
for cars and trucks made for the 2011 model year was 22.8 miles
per gallon. Ford's fuel economy was 21.3 miles per gallon,
according to the data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
FROM RACE CARS TO HOCKEY STICKS
The Ford deal comes after General Motors Co signed a
similar pact late last year with Teijin Ltd to develop advanced
carbon fiber composites for GM vehicles worldwide.
GM said carbon fiber is costly, but is 10 times stronger
than regular-grade steel and one-quarter of steel's weight.
Using carbon fiber in lieu of conventional steel can lower
the weight of a vehicle component by up to 50 percent, according
to the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting a car's weight by 10
percent can improve fuel economy by as much as 8 percent.
Carbon fiber, already used in racing cars and products like
hockey sticks, is not new to the auto industry. BMW,
for example, uses the material in its M3 coupe.
Yet carbon fiber's high cost has blocked its wide-scale use.
Industry experts say one way to lower the overall cost of carbon
fiber is to find cheaper ways of preparing those materials.
Teams at Ford and Dow Automotive are seeking inexpensive
sources of carbon fiber suitable for vehicle production and will
explore ways to build carbon fiber components on a large scale.
Dow brings to the partnership an expertise in materials
science and high-volume polymer processing. Dow has partnerships
with Turkish company AKSA and the U.S. Department of Energy's
Oak Ridge National Laboratory to make carbon fiber and its
Last month, the Obama administration announced it would
provide $14.2 million in funding to spur development of stronger
and lighter materials.