How Automotive Composite Materials are Lightweighting Cars

Advanced composite materials show true promise in helping automakers meet their fuel economy goals. While total system overhauls may still be quite distant, automakers are making significant gains by targeting their lightweighting efforts on high-impact applications.

Check out three ways BASF's Ultramid® polyamides were used to replace heavier materials and ensure the quality of standard for these premium brands.

Polyamide rear axle transmission crossbeam

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The world's first polyamide transmission crossbeam for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The world's first polyamide transmission crossbeam in a rear axle subframe was built for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The S-Class, a car praised for its performance and combination of luxury and technology, has continually been a platform for Mercedes-Benz to bring innovations to the market.

In order to replace the metal material in this load-bearing, highly structural rear axle crossbeam component, the 50 percent short glass-filled composite material had to provide optimum strength and rigidity and display a low tendency to creep under constant loading. The crossbeam is produced with BASF's specialty crash resistant polyamide material, Ultramid® A3WG10 CR, which is specially characterized for use in BASF's ULTRASIM® program. ULTRASIM helps the automotive industry design components faster, lighter, and increases confidence in understanding how the part will perform before the first part is manufactured.

BASF jointly developed the rear axle transmission crossbeam with ContiTech Vibration Control. This high performance component is 25 percent lighter than the previous die-cast aluminum beam.

Carbon fiber composite grille opening reinforcement

After Magna received a request from Ford Performance to develop a lightweight grill opening reinforcement concept, Magna International Inc. invited BASF to suggest lightweight material solutions to address the automaker's needs. The material solution was a short carbon fiber-filled composite material to be used in the GOR for the 2016 Shelby GT350. The high-performing carbon fiber design is 24 percent lighter than the original plastic-metal hybrid design.

The carbon fiber composite grille opening reinforcement (GOR) used on the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang.

The carbon fiber composite grille opening reinforcement (GOR) used on the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang.

Manufactured of BASF's Ultramid® polyamide thermoplastic resin with 20 percent short carbon fiber, the part is 2.5 pounds lighter than the predecessor. Ford chose to play up the innovative nature of this GOR by forgoing the standard beauty cover and molding the words "CARBON FIBER COMPOSITE" into the visible front end of the GOR. The loss of the beauty cover contributed to an additional loss of 1.9 pounds, bringing the total weight savings to 45 percent. BASF's ULTRASIM material characterization program was used in this development to help optimize the solution.

Glass fiber reinforced strut mount 

Cadillac developed the first-ever CT6 with technology, luxury and innovation as top priorities. The CT6 strut mount, developed by ContiTech Vibration Control, is the first of its kind made with a glass fiber reinforced composite material. This primary structural component is manufactured with BASF's Ultramid® polyamide, specially characterized for high-performance applications, which contributed to a weight reduction of around 25 percent compared to a traditional all-aluminum design.

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The CT6 strut mount is the first of its kind made with a glass fiber reinforced polyamide. Photo courtesy of ContiTech.

The lightweight part is highly durable and contributes to passenger comfort and safety, even along badly potholed roads. In addition to lightening the load and creating a safer driving experience, the new-and-improved strut mount has a longer service life than traditional variants made from steel or aluminum.

The adoption rate for advanced automotive composite materials is just at its onset and the industry should continue to expect significant advancements in the space over the next few years.