Magna International, working with Ford, has developed a prototype carbon fibrr composite subframe claimed to reduce mass by 34% compared to a stamped steel equivalent.

By replacing 45 steel parts with two moulded and four metallic parts, the prototype achieved an 87% reduction in the number of parts. The mouldings are joined by adhesive bonding and structural rivets.

The carbon fibre subframe is the result of a research and development project between Magna and Ford to investigate potential mass-reduction benefits and technical challenges of using such composites in chassis applications.

"When we are able to work in close partnership with a customer at the beginning of their design and engineering processes, it's an opportunity to bring our full capabilities to bear," said Grahame Burrow, president of Magna Exteriors. "We are able to take a clean sheet approach with design, materials and processing, collaborate with the customer and within our product groups, and deliver a [product] with the potential to really move the needle in terms of aggressive lightweighting without sacrificing styling or performance."

Magna's engineering team – the supplier's body and chassis and exteriors product groups – combined to address the challenge of reducing weight using composite materials and manufacturing processes.

The design has passed all performance requirements based on computer-aided engineering (CAE) analyses. The prototype subframes are now being produced by Magna for component and vehicle-level testing at Ford.

"Magna and Ford working together on this is a great example of collaboration on advanced materials," said Mike Whitens, director of vehicle enterprise systems for Ford research and advanced engineering.

The testing phase will evaluate corrosion, stone chipping and bolt load retention which aren't currently measured by CAE. The project team will also develop a recommended design, manufacturing and assembly process with the experience gained during the prototype build and subsequent testing.

"We've been a pioneer in the use of lightweight materials for many years," said Burrow. "First we launched the CF hood for the Cadillac CTS/ATS-V series, followed by a carbon fibre grille opening reinforcement for the Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500. Applying our expertise now to a structural component like the subframe is another step forward as we continue to help our OEM partners meet their goals."