Carbon fiber is 10 times stronger than iron, though it weighs only a quarter of iron. A vehicle that employs carbon fiber can improve fuel consumption by 40%. Because parts made of carbon fiber cost over 10 times more than those made of iron, carbon fiber is currently used only in high-end vehicles. However, rapid progress of processing technology reportedly will make it possible to supply carbon fiber for mass production vehicles in the late 2010s. A project participated by leading companies and universities including Toyota, Toray, and the University of Tokyo will start to address the development of vehicles made entirely of carbon fiber this July. The Japanese government has decided to support this project with a nearly four billion yen grant this year, and will allocate several tens of billion yen for the next 5-10 years.
Because replacing iron with carbon fiber alone makes an autobody 30% lighter, the project will design autobody and undercarriage suitable for carbon fiber to make an autobody lighter by 60%. Iron and steel will be used for engine accessories and axle bearings because they have higher degree of resistance against heat and abrasion than carbon fiber. Toray Corporate Business Research reckons that the world carbon fiber market was about 40,000 tons in 2011 of which 2,000 tons went to vehicles and that demand for vehicles will start to grow around 2015 and reach several tens of thousand tons in the 2020s.
The carbon fiber electric vehicle built by Toray