VM: What benefits does carbon fiber as a body panel have over fiberglass or other composites?
AR: Carbon fiber is roughly half the weight of fiberglass, has five times the stiffness and strength, and can absorb twice the crash energy of steel per pound. Because of the high strength of carbon, it can be made much thinner than fiberglass, even down to less than 1mm in thickness.
VM: Will carbon fiber eventually be the primary choice for body panels on all production vehicles?
AR: Possibly, someday soon, it will be on more moderately priced cars, not just sports cars like the Corvette ZR1. But it's not likely to ever completely displace less expensive materials on the least expensive cars.
VM: How is carbon fiber repaired if it's damaged? Can it be repaired like fiberglass?
AR: Yes and no. It can be repaired like fiberglass, but it will only be as strong as the repaired area. Special techniques can be done by shops that have the training and equipment, [and these] will yield carbon-fiber parts that are almost as good as the new parts. They won't be as light after the repair, however.
VM: Does Plasan offer carbon-fiber Corvette body panels to the aftermarket?
AR: Currently, Plasan only supplies to OEMs and Tier 1 OEM suppliers. The company is looking into the possibility of aftermarket parts, but [we] want to see what the potential market is before investing time and money into a new division.
VM: What weight savings does carbon fiber offer over other materials?
AR: Carbon fiber is 42 percent lighter than aluminum, 80 percent lighter than steel, and 18 percent lighter than SMC.
VM: What's the future of carbon fiber in the auto industry, and what products does Plasan plan to make in the future?
AR: The future of the carbon-fiber industry is directly intertwined with going green. As the automotive industry addresses CAFE regulations and consumer desire for fuel-efficient cars, the challenge of mass reduction has come to the forefront. According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a 10 percent reduction in mass would increase fuel efficiency by 7 percent. Our solutions allow for significant mass reduction while containing costs through part consolidation, lower capital investment, simplified assembly process, and other life-cycle savings such as reduced warranty costs and a leaner supply chain.
The front fender is another bantamweight piece, at just 4.5 pounds.
Plasan's trade-show display showcases many of the parts the company builds for the ZR1 and
Thanks in large part to its extensive use of carbon fiber, the ZR1 boasts a curb weight of