Lamborghini is one of Italy's most famous brands.
Lamborghini is one of Italy's most famous brands.
The Aventador was launched in 2011 ...
The Aventador was launched in 2011 ...
... It's built around a CFRP monocoque passenger cell.
... It's built around a CFRP monocoque passenger cell.
The Sesto Elemento concept car is Lamborghini's carbon fibre technology demonstrator.
The Sesto Elemento concept car is Lamborghini's carbon fibre technology demonstrator.

Watch Top Gear's video about the Lamborghini Aventador here.

Lamborghini is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and it boasts around 30 years of experience with composite materials and production technologies. 

In 1983, engineers in Sant’Agata built a prototype of the the famous Countach model using an occupant cell made entirely from carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). The car underwent extensive test driving but met its end in a crash test. Series production of this vehicle was not feasible at the time and it was in 1985 that the first components made from glass fibre reinforced plastics (GRP) made it into series production in the front hood and engine cover of the Countach Quattrovalvole.

In 1990, the introduction of the Diablo marked Lamborghini’s first significant ­application of carbon fibre composite. It was used in virtually all the exterior panels and an underbody/tunnel component made from CFRP provided stiffening for the tubular steel structure. The proportion of glass and carbon fibre composite used grew substantially in the 1993 Diablo Roadster – with the entire exterior skin, the hard top and the spoiler made from reinforced plastic.

The 2001 Murciélago brought further developments. In this model the centre tunnel, substantial parts of the underbody and the wheel arches were made from CFRP and provided additional stiffening to the tubular steel structure. With the Murciélago Roadster came further composite sub-assemblies, such as the structural framework around the driveline.

In the limited-edition Reventón and Reventón Roadster from 2008 and 2009 all exterior panels and significant parts of the bodyshell structure were produced in CFRP.

Current production

The company is currently producing the Gallardo and Aventador models at Sant’Agata. 

The Aventador, launched in 2011, takes Lamborghini’s composites expertise even further, with its first CFRP monocoque structure.
 

The Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera and Gallardo LP 570-4 Spyder Performante demonstrate targeted application of carbon fibre – on the bodyshell and in the interior – on an aluminium structure. Lamborghini claims that the engine bonnet on these models is the automotive industry’s largest carbon fibre component with Class A surface finish.

The Aventador, launched in 2011, takes Lamborghini’s composites expertise even further, with its first CFRP monocoque structure. Lamborghini reports that the Aventador is the only production car with a full CFRP monocoque (tub and roof), and that it is the only company to manufacture a CFRP monocoque for a production vehicle in-house. It is produced at the company’s Sant’Agata composite production facility (more of this in a separate article).

When talking about carbon fibre, it’s also important to mention the Sesto Elemento concept car, unveiled at the 2010 Paris Auto Show. This is Lamborghini’s carbon fibre technology demonstrator. Like the Aventador this car is based around a CFRP monocoque passenger cell, but this time manufactured in a one-shot process. The front subframe (incorporating the suspension points) and the crash boxes, exterior panels, major suspension components (control arms), the wheels and the drive shaft are also made of CFRP. (See: Lamborghini unveils Sesto Elemento carbon fibre concept car.)

Partnerships

Following an unsettled period characterised by a number of changes in ownership, Lamborghini was acquired by Audi (part of the Volkswagen Group) in 1998. Like Lamborghini, Audi is also an expert in lightweight engineering, and particularly in the high-volume application of aluminium, which Lamborghini uses in the Gallardo’s space frame. In the area of composites Audi and Lamborghini exchange their knowledge. 

Lamborghini is also working with a number of other partners in its development of carbon fibre technology, including Boeing, the University of Washington and golf equipment manufacturer Callaway.

The Forged Composite® technology employed in the Sesto Elemento was developed in partnership with Callaway, which also uses the material to produce golf club heads. (See: Fast cars, golf clubs, and carbon fibre.)

The partnership with Boeing and the University of Washington in Seattle was signed in 2010. Lamborghini provides the Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory (ACSL) at the University of Washington with substantial funding, supporting long-term research work. Topics include repair technologies for CFRP structures, and material analysis and simulation. Crash behaviour of composite structures is another core project.

The future

Following its acquisition by Audi Lamborghini has entered a phase of stability and growth. Since 2000 the company has doubled its workforce to more than 900, tripled its number of dealers worldwide to 125, and it’s selling more cars. A new model expected to launch in 2017 is currently in the pipeline.

Automotive composites on display at COMPOSITES EUROPE 2013
Reinforced Plastics' visit to Lamborghini was part of the annual press trip organised by Reed Exhibitions, the organiser of the COMPOSITES EUROPE trade show. The five largest carbon fibre producers – SGL, Toho Tenax, Mitsubishi Rayon, Toray and Zoltek – will exhibit at COMPOSITES EUROPE 2013 in Stuttgart on 17-19 September. The accompanying COMPOSITES Forum and AVK International Conference will also overview composites manufacturing trends in the automotive industry.

Lamborghini has invested heavily in carbon fibre composite and intends to stay at the forefront of the technology. Stephan Winkelmann, President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, has stated that every new Lamborghini will make use of carbon fibre technology for optimum weight ­reduction. The objective is to improve the ­power-to-weight ratio of the car (to improve the driving experience in terms of handling and acceleration), and because carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are relevant for super sports cars too! ♦

Also see:

 An article about Lamborghini's carbon composite production facility will follow soon.


This article will be published in the July/August 2013 issue of Reinforced Plastics magazine.

The digital edition of Reinforced Plastics is distributed free of charge to readers who meet our qualifying criteria. You can apply to receive your free copy by completing the registration form.