The study, Supply Chain Analysis of the Automotive Carbon Fiber Composites Market, reports that the market earned revenues of $14.70 million in 2010.

Frost & Sullivan notes that fuel efficiency and low carbon emission regulations are playing a major role in raising demand for lightweight automotive composite components to replace metal parts. In addition, major Western economies have begun to witness increased consumer spending, particularly in the luxury and super-luxury car segments, the majority of which utilise carbon composite components. Carbon composites are also being widely adopted in alternative vehicles such as electric/hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.

"However, the high costs of carbon fibre and existing production techniques results in higher manufacturing cycle times, which leads to low-volume production," notes Frost & Sullivan senior research analyst Sandeepan Mondal.

"Further, there are concerns over providing a waste disposal/recycling system for carbon composite parts, as well as substitution threats from glass fibre reinforced plastics."

In addition, Frost & Sullivan says there is a lack of general engineering experience among OEMs that are reluctant to move away from the metal-based assembly lines, which they have already heavily invested in.

CFRP trends

According to Frost & Sullivan, to reduce the overall system cost of automotive components, suppliers of automotive carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) parts should implement new fabrication techniques such as resin transfer moulding (RTM). This could also reduce cycle times.

Carbon fibre / epoxy composites are best suited for automotive applications, the report states, given their high tensile strength, fire retardant properties, and high fatigue resistance. These advantages have created increasing awareness of CFRP among automotive OEMs with regard to crashworthiness, styling and parts consolidation.

"CFRPs provide a better alternative to metals and glass reinforced plastics, and innovative fabrication methods should enable high-throughput production," says Mondal. "Hence, an optimum balance between cost and performance can be achieved, which will aid in compliance with fuel economy legislations worldwide."

Top automotive companies are collaborating with carbon fibre suppliers to ensure long-term supply and rein in price fluctuations.