The upcoming fuel economy and emissions regulations are forcing automakers to evaluate various methods of cutting fuel consumption. Cutting weight is one method, and to do that, Audi recently signed an agreement with German supplier Voith to develop a range of lightweight composite materials — including carbon fiber.
Like BMW’s partnership with SGL, the Audi-Voith relationship primarily surrounds mass production of the fiber-reinforced plastics. Carbon fiber is widely used in high-end, low-volume exotic cars, but manufacturing costs have prevented it from being applied to mass-produced vehicles. By partnering with a proven materials specialist, Audi believes it can further whittle cost away from the production process, potentially allowing future volume models to incorporate substantial quantities of the advanced composites.
“Fiber-reinforced polymers offer weight and strength advantages, which we have already put to use in the Audi R8 and the Audi RS3, for instance,” Rupert Stadler, Audi’s chairman, said in a prepared statement. “We want to use these advantages for high-volume production as well, and therefore the focus of our partnership with Voith is on specific car projects.”
Audi isn’t the only branch of the Volkswagen Group tree that’s interested in expanding its composite expertise. Volkswagen itself has been developing new carbon fiber production methods, some of which were used to bring the latest 1-liter concept — the XL1 — to reality. Additionally, Lamborghini has spent considerable sums to partner with universities and Callaway to advance carbon fiber state of the art, and plans to extensively use the material in its forthcoming Aventador supercar.
To date, Audi hasn’t provided any details on when it hopes to commence mass production of composite plastics. Subsequently, which vehicles will receive the materials — and when — remains uncertain.