CAFE Standards, Cars, and the Composites Industry

CAFE Standards, Cars, and the Composites Industry

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https://www.rockwestcomposites.com/plates-panels-angles/carbon-fiber-plate - The Obama administration's implementation of new CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards in 2012 would have required car manufacturers to reach a minimum fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Some saw the standards as a boon to the composites industry inasmuch as automakers would be forced to buy more composites while composite manufacturers would have to find cheaper ways to produce their materials. It turns out there is more to it than simply buying carbon fiber sheets.

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Published 14 January 2018
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CAFE Standards, Cars, and the Composites Industry The Obama administration's implementation of new CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards in 2012 would have required car manufacturers to reach a minimum fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Some saw the standards as a boon to the composites industry inasmuch as automakers would be forced to buy more composites while composite manufacturers would have to find cheaper ways to produce their materials. It turns out there is more to it than simplybuying carbon fiber sheets.
We know the main things preventing the auto industry from going full tilt withcarbon fiber and other compositesare cost and cycle time. Simply put, it is too expensive to replace all the steel and aluminum in the modern car and still maintain a high enough profit margin. At current cycle times additional production lines are needed, which is very expensive. So until the cost of composites comes down, auto makers will be very selective about the composites they do use.
The question now being asked is what affect the Trump administration's decision to scrap the new CAFE standards will mean to auto industry adoption of composite materials. Some believe it will have a negative impact while others believe it is a non-issue.
What Drives Fuel Mileage Improvement? At the heart of the question is what actually drives fuel mileage improvement. Over the last eight months or so, a number of car makers have made it clear that they will be investing heavily in new electrics and hybrids over the next 5 to 10 years. A couple of companies have even said they are seriously considering abandoning the internal combustion engine altogether in the near future. Is that because of consumer demand, government regulations, or something else entirely? In promoting the CAFE standards implemented by the Obama administration, proponents saw them as a way to force car makers to push harder for electrics, hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in order to get around the higher standards altogether. In all likelihood, that would have led to a much higher demand for composites like carbon fiber. But would that have brought down the cost of manufacturing carbon fiber panels, frames, etc.?
Opponents of the tougher CAFE standards say that consumers naturally drive fuel mileage improvements through their purchasing habits. They point to the increased fuel efficiency of the 1980s in response to the Carter-era fuel crisis, a time when the gas-guzzling monsters of the 1970s gave way to K-cars and minivans. They say that consumers will ultimately demand more electrics and other alternative vehicles as time goes on.
Only Time Will Tell So, who's right? Only time will tell. One thing we do know for sure is that it's going to take more than lowering the cost of buying carbon fiber sheets to get the car makers fully on board with composites. Until our industry finds cheaper ways of manufacturing the materials auto manufacturers need to increase fuel efficiency, they are going to be hesitant to invest in composites. Perhaps higher CAFE standards would have motivated auto makers to start getting more involved in co mposites now. Perhaps they would not. That's the tricky thing about economics. It's hard to tell where any particular industry might go based on government regulations and mandates.
If there is any positive take away from the CAFE standards debate it is this: it is only a matter of time before the auto industry fully embraces carbon fiber and other composites. Aerospace has embraced them; marine manufacturing has embraced them; many more industries are finding ways to use composite materials every day. It will happen for auto manufacturing. It is simply a matter of when and how.