The Ford Focus carbon fibre composite prototype bonnet weighs 50% less than a steel version. (Picture © Ford Motor Company.)
The Ford Focus carbon fibre composite prototype bonnet weighs 50% less than a steel version. (Picture © Ford Motor Company.)

The carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) Ford Focus bonnet was displayed at the COMPOSITES EUROPE 2012 trade show in Düsseldorf. It is a sandwich construction comprising a foam core material sandwiched between two layers of CFRP.

According to Ford, production time for an individual carbon fibre composite bonnet is fast enough to be employed on a production line – a significant step towards increased usage of composite materials in Ford vehicles.

"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 fibre automotive parts in large numbers has never been available. 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 fibre components.”
Inga Wehmeyer, advanced materials and processes research engineer, Ford European Research Centre

Ford has partnered with the Institute of Automotive Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, Henkel, Evonik, IKV (Institute of Plastics Processing), Composite Impulse and Toho Tenax in the Hightech.NRW research project, a programme with the aim of developing CFRP car body panels for mass production.

Funded by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the project began in 2010 and is set to continue until September 2013. It targets are:

  • developing a cost effective method to manufacture carbon fibre composites for body panel applications that can be incorporated into existing vehicle production processes;
  • significantly reducing individual component production times;
  • reducing the amount of finishing work required to acceptable standards;
  • meeting requirements for painting; and
  • at least 50% reduction in component weight.

The refined gap-impregnation process works by introducing resin to pre-formed carbon fibre textile material in a fast, stable and adaptable manner, with high quality results.

Initial testing suggests that CFRP components such as the prototype Ford Focus bonnet will meet Ford’s high standards for stiffness, dent resistance and crash performance. The component has also performed well in pedestrian protection head-impact tests.

Partnership with Dow Automotive

Ford's involvement in this project follows its partnership with Dow Automotive Systems, which will focus on establishing an economical source of automotive-grade carbon fibre, as well as high-volume manufacturing methods. Both these areas are critical to increasing the range of future Ford battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

“Customers of Ford’s multi-million selling passenger cars should not expect to see carbon fibre-bodied examples on sale in the near future. But the techniques we have refined and developed for the prototype Focus bonnet could be transferred to higher volume applications at a later date.”
Inga Wehmeyer

Advanced materials such as carbon fibre are key to Ford’s plans to reduce the weight of its cars by up to 340 kg by the end of the decade.

Also see:

Ford and Dow team up on low cost, high volume carbon fibre composites;

Automotive companies select their composites partners.