In a bid to claim an early sales lead over its rivals as the car industry's focus shifts towards the production of ever lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles, Toyota will begin using carbon fiber and aluminum in its next generation of hybrid cars. Its 1/X concept vehicle, which many see as the logical successor to the Prius, will weigh 67% less than its progenitor and come equipped with a 92 mpg fuel economy - due in large part to its lighter, carbon fiber body. It will run on a blend of ethanol/gasoline and electricity.
Sounds impressive, but some aren't convinced: "Carbon fiber is a technology for the future, but it's going to take years of work before the carmakers can use it for mass production," said Koji Endo, a senior analyst at Credit Suisse, attributing his pessimism largely to the material's high expense (100 times more expensive than steel). Sage Marie, a Honda spokeswoman, also cast doubts on the plan by emphasizing that switching to the new material would require carmakers to revamp their entire auto-assembly lines, a costly process that could take years.Toray Industries, Japan's largest carbon fiber manufacturer, plans on expanding its operations by investing close to $175 million in a new research center and plant that would exclusively make the material for cars.
Another alternative to steel that carmakers have been turning to is aluminium, which is about 33% lighter. Mazda will soon put on display a new rotary engine substituting aluminum for steel in its side housings; it expects to introduce the engine by the early 2010s as an integral component of its new lines of more fuel-efficient vehicles. For its part, Mitsubishi will unveil its sleek new aluminum-based i-MiEV Sport - an all-electric concept - at this week's Tokyo Motor Show.
We can't wait to see these come to market.
Via ::Bloomberg: Toyota Cuts Test Car's Weight to Win Sales as Fuel Prices Rise (news website)