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The Future of Car Materials

Posted on September 1, 2018 – Car Technology

Car manufacturing has definitely been experiencing a golden age over the last decade. The need to find alternatives to fossil fuels has sparked a revolution with the advent of electric cars, and none of the major car makers would dream of not having a strategy to develop its own line nowadays. In 2017, New Zealand got its very own first 3D-printed car and we are seeing new materials opening up a wealth of technical opportunities and making vehicles more fuel efficient.

The one enduring trend that is noticeable is the increasing use of plastics. Because it is a light material, it makes up only 10% of the weight of a car although it represents 50% of its volume. But it isn’t the only light material commonly found in vehicles: polymer composites, carbon fibre-reinforced plastics and plastic parts from carbon dioxide are the latest developments. Why do they matter? Because they are heralding a new era of vehicles that are more sustainable and are greatly improved in terms of safety and performance.

Here are the likely trends for the future of vehicles.


Plastic is fantastic

3D printing must be one of the coolest things on earth ever! From custom organs for transplants to car parts, there is little the technology can’t do. As we saw in this article on the first kiwi 3D-printed car, the manufacturing advantages are enormous.

At the design stage, it can cut years off the process by making the prototype stage much shorter. 3D-printed cars are also notable for the fact that they have far fewer individual parts and therefore need smaller manufacturing plants. From a customer point of view, it makes customisation much easier and affordable.

Local Motors was the first company to build a 3D-printed electric car, the Strati, which was made with carbon fibre-reinforced plastics. Its production process was very efficient as it only took a couple of days to print the body which was manufactured as one large piece.

The whole car counted only 50 different parts which is utterly breathtaking if you consider that a traditional car cab require tens of thousands of parts requiring assembly.

LA-based Divergent3D has embraced the technology and found backing worth US$65 million to open an experimental factory using 3D metal printers and techniques from the aerospace industry to create cars. Its prototype, the Blade Supercar, is built using new techniques. Its chassis is made with 3D-printed metal nodes connecting to carbon fibre-reinforced plastic rods that make it both light and strong. The car weighs less than 650Kg and can go from zero to 60km/h in about 2.5 seconds. Not bad!

Divergent3D’s vision is one of a network of micro factories that would be able to create customised cars quickly and locally and thus avoid shipping cars halfway across the world. Let’s hope that they are getting that wrong or we will soon be out of a job at McCullough!

While 3D-printing still feels like something straight out of a sci-fi film, mainstream car manufacturers have not been oblivious to the potential of plastic for fuel efficiency and have plans to make it an integral part of their design and production processes in the future. Ford, for example, announced in 2017 that they would test large-scale 3D-printing for production of customised car parts.


Self-Driving Electric Cars

Combining two of the car technologies that have been experiencing most attention over the last decade, OLLI was created by Local Motors, a mobility company in the Washington DC area founded in 2007. With a primary focus on public transport solutions, the company has been producing vehicles made from a composite material 80% acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic and 20% carbon fibre.

The look of their shuttles is positively adorable, with their compact lines and large windows. One of their models, the 3OLLI offers to be a guide tour as much as a vehicle. Get in and ask for restaurant or sightseeing recommendations then sit back as OLLI takes you there. No need for designated drivers!

And OLLI is sustainable at all the stages of its life. When it is time for it to retire, a lot of his parts can be recycled.


The Spira

The Spira is a three-wheeled car. So far, nothing futuristic. What is interesting about it though is that it is made almost completely of a honeycomb fibreglass, ABS plastic, to which was added a thick protective layer of polypropylene plastic foam.

One of the focuses of the car industry has always been to protect driver and passengers in case of an accident. According to the company, the Spira is the next best thing and allies toughness with lightness. They offer the example of a crash in the US involving a Spira that got struck by a hit-and-run driver and rolled four times. The car and its driver made it with just a few scratches and now Spira’s CEO brings the damaged car to shows as evidence of its resilience!

The Spira is a limited production but it is undeniable that there are serious opportunities for use in developing countries where car accidents still result in occupants being seriously hurt.


Cars Made Out of Thin Air

This is not quite the Emperor’s new clothes, but almost!

Inspired by plants that take in carbon dioxide to create the nutrients they need for their growth, Ford has announced plans to capture CO2 and use it as a feedstock to make foam plastics for seat cushions, seat backs, floor mats, side panelling and dashboards. There is something poetic about the fact that vehicles, which are responsible for a significant part of air pollution and emission of greenhouse gases, should, in turn, somewhat “offset” their harmful effect on the environment through their production process.

Ford plans to have their production process fully read for this new biomaterial in the next four years and develop more plastic materials using captured carbon.

If you are looking for an experienced shipping company for your vehicle, contact us on +64 9 309 1163 or request a quote online.


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