MultiMechanics Blog

Top 5 Advanced Composite Cars at the Detroit Auto Show

Posted by MultiMechanics on Jan 27, 2015 1:00:00 PM

In 1899,  William Ernest Metzger helped organize the first Detroit Auto Show, and since 1907 the show has been running annually. 

This year's show featured over 30 cars, ranging from the tried-and-true Porsche 911, to the far-out Honda FCEV.

Honda FCEV
Honda Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (Concept)

But in honor of the great strides being made with advanced composites in the auto industry, we bring you the top 5 composites-related showcases at this year’s North American Auto Show.

5. Chevy Bolt

Chevy Bold

This is Chevy’s turn at making an oddly-shaped all-electric composite car for the masses. On paper, they were able to resolve the dual, competing concerns of range anxiety and sticker-price, by offering a vehicle with range capabilities of more than 200 miles, starting at about $30,000.

Lightweight materials bring down the curb weight and maximize the cars range. These materials include aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber and woven mesh.  An advanced nano-composite rear hatch and wraparound rear window give the Bolt EV concept a distinctive (ie. odd) appearance and the functional end-result of more light within the cabin. 

4. Faurecia composite parts

Faurecia (an international automotive parts manufacturer known for its interiors and emission control technologies) was at this years convention showing off some of their composite design skills.


Faurecia debuted a glass-fiber composite rear floor, which saves 40% and 15% mass when compared to the steel and aluminum floors it was replacing.  They also showcased an all-composite roof made via RTM. The exposed-carbon roof is both aesthetically pleasing and also reduces the roof weight by as much as 60 percent compared to steel.

Most impressive was their liftgate, comprised entirely of advanced composite materials. The pictured example is a plastic composite liftgate reinforced with carbon fibers, with a structural inner thermoset lining and a an outer thermoplastic shell.  Weighing just 15.4 pounds it is 30 percent lighter than the equivalent metal solution. 

As a testament to composites’ ability to adapt to specific functional needs, the liftgate can be manufactured using carbon fibers or glass fibers and thermoset or thermoplastic resins – or a combination of all of the above, depending on the end-users needs!

3. BMW I3

A “top composite auto” list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the BMW I3.


In late 2013, BMW released it’s composite-dominated, all electric vehicle, the I3. Originally known as MegaCity Vehicle, it is comprised largely of composites and can cover around 100 miles on one charge.

As part of the car’s design, BMW revamped the entire supply chain, from raw material to production part. The automaker says it can supply carbon fiber to the i3’s highly automated assembly line in Leipzig, Germany, at about one-third the market price per pound. 

Designing the i3 body with a passenger cell of carbon fiber and a lower “drive module” of aluminum saved about 550 pounds compared with a steel structure, helping to wring the most miles from the battery. Even though the carbon-fiber material is still much more expensive than steel, differences in the overall bodymaking process yield cost savings that help to offset the raw material cost. For starters, the i3 body structure uses just 130 carbon-fiber pieces, compared with about 400 for a steel body.

BMW claims it can produce an i3 in about 20 hours, versus about 40 hours for a 3 Series car. 


2. Lamborghini Veneno Roadster


At 3.3 million euros, this car should be in the top of every category (except most affordable).

With a maximum output of 750 hp, Veneno accelerates from 0 to 60 mi/h in just 2.9 seconds with a top speed of 220 km/h. (Compare that to the Chevy Volt at 8.9 sec). A lot of this has to do with the car’s 3,278 pound curb-weight, and the 12 cylinder engine helps too. 

The Lamborghini composite design team flexed their muscles with this lightweight design. The cars monocoque and all exterior parts are made from Carbon-Fiber-Reinforced Polymers. The extremely lightweight bucket seats are made from Lamborghini’s patented Forged Composite and a woven carbon-fiber skin is used to clad the entire cockpit.

Forged Composite is a joint venture product between Lamborghini and Callaway Golf clubs and is produced by Michigan’s Quantum Composites. It is composed of bundles of microscopic long chopped carbon fibers held together in a resin. It requires about 500,000 intertwined fibers per square inch. 


1. Oak Ridge 3d Printed Car

Take a close look. This 1400 lb Shelby Cobra replica is made almost entirely of 3d printed carbon fiber. The car’s shell, support frame, monocoque, grille, even the headrest brackets are 3D-printed. This car is the brain-child of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in partnership with the US Department of Energy and open-source design site Local Motors. The car was built in the Oak Ridge National Lab using the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine.  

The Shelby was printed using 20% carbon fiber reinforced ABS material and was only 6 weeks from conception to finished product.  I can't imagine they did too much stress analysis or advanced material optimization, but that doesn’t mean we still wouldn’t take this thing for a spin!



 Composite cars and composite parts have been around for decades, but as of late we arestarting to see them in more mainstream applications. To learn more about the beneifts of advanced materials, and best practices for working with them, read more of our posts or reach out to the experts at MultiMechanics. 


Topics: Composites Engineering, Composite Design