Fuel efficiency and low carbon emission regulations are playing a major role in raising global demand to incorporate lightweight composites and replace metal parts in automotive components. Furthermore, major Western economies have begun to witness increased consumer spending, particularly in the luxury and super-luxury car segments, the majority of which utilize carbon composite components. As per Frost & Sullivan the automotive carbon fiber composites market finds that the market earned revenues of US$14.70 mln in 2010. This is likely to reach US$95.50 mln by 2017. Growth is expected to be rapid with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30.6 %. Reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from passenger vehicles is correlated with the overall weight reduction of the vehicle. This will help European original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) meet the low carbon emission regulations. The US automakers will also able to achieve the set average fleet fuel efficiency target of 35 miles per gallon (mpg) to 39 mpg by 2016, in the wake of the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) legislation. However, the high costs of carbon fiber and existing production techniques results in higher manufacturing cycle times, which leads to low-volume production. Further, there are concerns over providing a waste disposal/recycling system for carbon composite parts, as well as substitution threats from glass-fiber-reinforced plastics. In addition, there is a lack of general engineering experience among OEMs that are reluctant to move away from the metal-based assembly lines, which they have already heavily invested in. To reduce the overall system cost of automotive components, automotive carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) suppliers should implement new fabrication techniques for CFRP parts such as resin transfer molding (RTM). This could also serve well to reduce the cycle times. Since these high-performance plastics and polymers are lightweight, they are also incorporated into the interiors and in under-the-hood parts, thus reducing the weight of the vehicle. Carbon-epoxy composites are best suited for automotive applications, given their high tensile strength, fire-retardant properties, and high fatigue resistance. All of these advantages have created increasing awareness of CFRP among automotive OEMs with regard to crashworthiness, styling and parts consolidation. CFRPs provide a better alternative to metals and glass-reinforced plastics, as well as innovative fabrication methods should enable high-throughput production. Hence, an optimum balance between cost and performance can be achieved, which will aid in compliance with fuel economy legislations worldwide. Further, top-rung automotive companies are collaborating with carbon fiber suppliers to ensure long-term supply and rein in price fluctuations. Technologically advanced manufacturing techniques, the decreasing prices of CFRPs due to high-volume production, and the increasing frequency of high-value joint development agreements between carbon fiber manufacturers and OEMS are positively influencing the demand for carbon fiber composites. The widespread adoption of CFRPs in alternative vehicles such as electric/hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, and CO2emission regulations mandated by the European and US parliaments are also expected to drive the automotive carbon fiber composites market globally. An optimum balance between cost and performance can be achieved, which will aid in compliance with fuel economy legislations worldwide. Top automotive companies are collaborating with carbon fibre suppliers to ensure long-term supply and rein in price fluctuations.
According to a recent poll of Composites Manufacturing readers, the three fastest growing composite markets are automotive at nearly 30%, followed closely by aerospace and renewable energies. With automotive manufacturers focused on lightweighting, composites have seen a jump in materials interest and adoption, both in high performance and the GFRP markets. Aerospace has seen a similar jump with the roll-out of the composite-laden Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, not to mention a composite focus within military applications. However, the huge demand for renewable energies over the past 5-10 years is declining, especially within the wind energy sector due to lapsing tax credits. How this will effect the composites industry is yet to be seen. Other markets surveyed include infrastructure (9%), military (6%), sports & recreation (4%), marine (3%) and others (2%).