High-strength, Low-weight Materials
In order to get even greater mileage and lower emissions than we're capable of today, cars will have to become lighter in weight. But with consumers demanding more creature comforts inside their vehicles, it would be a bad business move to stop offering the latest technical wizardry and sound-deadening material that make for a comfy ride. Yet, these concessions to comfort make cars heavier.
One solution is to make body components of lighter materials like carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (or polymer), which you might see abbreviated as CFRP or just CRP. Like many automotive innovations, this one started out in the racing world long before seeing wide application in the consumer marketplace.
CFRP works much like fiberglass -- the carbon fiber is spun into long strands and then arranged in a cloth-like weave for strength. A gooey plastic material (the polymer) is soaked into the carbon fiber around a shaped mold. When the combination hardens, the resulting part is strong and quite light -- perhaps 50 percent lighter than forming the part out of metal alloy. It's very expensive, and therefore still uncommon on mass-produced cars [source: Madabout-Kitcars.com].
However, the Z06 version of the Chevrolet Corvette already makes limited use of carbon fiber right from the factory. And Lexus is using CFRP extensively throughout its 2011-release supercar, the LF-A, and says on the LF-A Web site to expect more carbon fiber cars from Lexus in the future [source: Lexus]. BMW has used carbon fiber for the roof on it M3 sports car, and plans to use it on a wide scale for its "Megacity" eco-friendly city car expected sometime around 2015.
Cars won't just be getting lighter in the future, but smarter as well. Go to the next page to learn how.