And drive up value.
It's common knowledge amongst motorsport fans that less weight means better performance. Not only do lighter cars offer better acceleration, but they also need less distance to come to a stop. Out in the real world, lighter cars also offer lower fuel consumption figures, so it is clear to see that lighter cars are a win for everyone except the oil producers. Lightweight cars have enjoyed a long and rich history in the automotive world, with cars such as the Fiat 500 and British Mini Cooper being some of the more famous. Israel body panel company Plasan, which has a manufacturing plant in West Michigan, has now developed a way to make modern cars even lighter by utilizing lightweight carbon-and-composite car body structures to reduce overall weight by a significant margin.
The company claims that the new construction method offers a weight reduction of up to 20% over aluminum bodies and 45% over steel bodies. "We're hopeful that in two to three years, there will be components built using our technology, with a full body following some years later," chief designer Nir Kahn told Autocar in a recent interview.
At the heart of the new technology lies pull-extrusion 'pultrusion' carbon fiber beams with carbon fiber filaments that run continuously throughout the body panels, making them strong and stiff, without weighing a ton. Each beam gets bonded to a composite body panel to form semi-structural bodysides, as well as floors and roofs.
What makes the new tech sound even more promising is the fact that manufacturers can build these structures by using existing production line equipment and construction methods. "We really see high production scale possible on cars - this isn't limited to defense or motorsport applications - with annual production rates in the hundreds of thousands a year feasible," said Plasan's boss of composites, Ronen Berger.
While carbon fiber is still a relatively expensive material, the company believes that saving a kilogram at $10 a pop makes financial sense. "This makes it more cost-effective than other methods of improving efficiency or range of electric cars," Kahn concludes.