It took more than three decades to perfect.
As we reach the dusk of the ICE era, automakers have moved into refining the rest of their vehicles for weight, aerodynamics and stiffness, to eke out that last little bit of grunt before we move into the silent and electric period. You'd think bigger companies have the advantage here, but smaller and boutique companies like Lamborghini have been innovating on the materials side for decades. That's just something you have to do if you're making the best and fastest cars in the world, in low volumes.
These materials, mostly carbon fiber, will be key going forward, both for weight and size reduction, as it's stronger than the equivalent material, though it's also more expensive. But Lamborghini's been studying this stuff since the '80s and has refined the process to make it both cheaper and more efficient. Let's check out the timeline of key points in Lamborghini's love affair with carbon fiber.
It starts in 1983 when Lamborghini uses carbon fiber for the first time. It creates the Esperienza Materiali Compositi department, with help from airplane company Boeing, which was already using Kevlar and carbon fiber in its crafts. The first carbon fiber chassis prototype was called the Countach Evoluzione and it ended up being the first road car of its type.
We go a little more than 20 years to the next milestone in 2007. Lamborghini partners with the University of Washington. The college helps develop RTM (resin transfer molding) out-of-autoclave technology that would eventually grow to be the monocoque of the future Aventador. Also, a division is set up in Lamborghini's Research and Development Center to focus on new applications for the material.
In 2008 it signs another deal with Boeing, this one to study the crash behavior of composites generally, and the Aventador monocoque specifically. "Before anyone else in the automotive industry, Automobili Lamborghini starts to implement composite material technologies, processes, simulation and characterization methods from the aeronautics and aerospace industries," says Lamborghini.
Two years later Lamborghini develops "Forged Composites" technology, which leads to a patent, which leads to the Sesto Elemento supercar. Lambo then builds another plant at its site in Italy dedicated to composites. The new site eventually produces the Aventadormonocoque.
In 2011 the Lamborghini Aventador is introduced, flooring anyone who sees or drives it. Its carbon fiber monocoque is manufactured entirely in house, weighing in at just 506 pounds. Lamborghini produced it at its home base because it says the process was too complex to farm it out. It uses resin transfer molding, which doesn't require lamination and autoclaves like true carbon fiber. In the same year, it starts to work on its RTM/carbon fiber repair strategy, again with Boeing.
A few years later Lamborghini is certified to repair the carbon fiber with Flying Doctors. They're specialists who have undergone training at Boeing, as well as Abaris Training Resources in Nevada, to get their Advanced Composite Structures Damage Repair qualification, recognized by the US Federal Aviation Administration. The service, according to Lamborghini, is to guarantee that the performance will be 100% equal to the repaired part.
In 2015 it develops Carbonskin, a flexible carbon matrix that will work in car interiors. It was developed at its R&D center and is certified for automotive use. It reduces weight compared to alcantara and leather, and is soft to touch. In 2016 Lamborghini opens a new carbon fiber research facility, the Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory in Seattle. It continues to look for innovations in the material.
The next year it joins with the Houston Methodist Research Institute to study composites for medicine. Lamborghini shared its knowledge and the pair works on the study of "in-vitro biocompatibility of composite materials that could potentially be used for the development of prosthetic implants and for subcutaneous devices." They're looking for lightweight, radio-transparent materials that are more compatible with the human body, as well as being more durable.
In 2019, Lamborghini goes to space. Not really, but it sends some materials to the International Space Station on November 2, as part of test campaign. These tests analyzed five different materials produced by the company to see how they react under the extreme stresses of space travel. When you're Huracan STO takes off like a rocket, now you know why.
Last year, the Italian company launched the wild Essenza SCV12. It's the first car to feature a carbon fiber roll cage certified by the FIA. To get that cert, the cage was reinforced at several points, to support 12 tons of force without significant deformation. There are more than 20 static tests, focusing on the chassis, belts, pedals and fuel tank. There are also dynamic tests at speeds of up to 31 mph, which if we're being honest, seems a little slow. In those tests, the "chassis must not be exposed to intrusions of external elements that could come into contact with the driver, and the fuel tank must not leak," says Lamborghini.
Today the company has moved into recycling all these composites, trying to use less energy when creating them, and figuring out what to do about the byproducts. Lamborghini says all waste is now reused, either in a vehicle or in the factory for stuff like paneling and trollies. It collects the fibers on the stuff it can't use and repurposes that as well. Lamborghini says its ultimate goal is to create a genuine circular sustainability of carbon fiber. We hope they succeed, we love the stuff.