Magna Exteriors on why carbon fibre has mass-market appeal - Q&A

By Matthew Beecham | 1 June 2016

Joe Laux

Joe Laux

Until recently, the use of carbon fibre in car manufacture has been confined to high-end, low-volume vehicles. Joe Laux, Magna Exteriors director advanced engineering, tells just-auto why demand from OEMs for the lightweight material is now growing.

We learned in 2014 that Magna is to supply carbon fibre composite Class A body panels for two unnamed 2016 MY vehicles. Could you update us on that development?

Yes. We are pleased to say that we have launched, and are in current production, in what we believe is the world's first of its kind, compression molded carbon fibre hood.

As we understand it, the high cost of carbon fibre and lengthy processing time has held it back. So, what has changed?

Carbon fibre use continues to grow very rapidly for a number of reasons (primarily strength versus weight ratio) in multiple industries. The first uses of carbon fibre were materials designed for the aerospace and racing industries. However, these initial offerings were not focused on cycle times because they were designed for low volume applications. For this reason there is a tremendous opportunity to develop materials focused on improved process time and that is where we place considerable focus. This, in combination with improved material costs, will grow the use of carbon fibre applications in the automotive industry.

What are the considerations when looking at an alternative material in vehicle manufacture?

It is very clear that there is no one solution that fits all applications for all OEMs. I think that most of our customers are moving towards the concept of a multi-material vehicle that puts materials where they are most efficient and effective. Consequently, this will include several metal alloys of different strengths and weights, and also several carbon fibre composite materials with different strengths and weights.

Where do you see the greatest opportunities/ applications for carbon fibre in mass produced cars?

We are seeing early opportunity in closures (hoods, roofs, and decklids) and emerging opportunities in structural applications.

What other trends are you seeing with respect to light-weighting using composites in vehicle manufacture?

We are seeing a trend of customers shifting from a long term research and development in carbon fibre lightweight composites to a more near term implementation focus. Furthermore, we expect this trend to increase as we get closer to the step-up in CAFE and other vehicle efficiency regulations. 

Can you envisage cheaper, easier-to-form alternatives to carbon fibre?

We already have easy to form carbon fibre materials and they will continue to improve in efficiency and effectiveness, and there is not a material that we know of that competes on a strength versus weight basis. There are many materials that are more affordable, but not on a comparable mass savings opportunity.

What are OEMs looking for in terms of new composites?

We believe OEMs are looking for a multitude of composite applications that will help get them in a more competitive position for vehicle performance in terms of driving performance and efficiency, as well as enabling OEMs to meet up-and-coming increases in regulatory requirements for fuel efficiency and CO2 output. 

What are the challenges with joining certain lightweight composites?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's Global light vehicle materials market - forecasts to 2030