Boeing's 787 Dreamliner got cleared by U.S. regulators recently and is ready to take to the skies. What does Ford (NYSE: F ) have to do with that? Well, the auto giant is looking at using the same material that's used in the 787 for its vehicles: carbon fiber.
The 787 is the first large commercial plane that has ditched aluminum for carbon fiber. Ford has taken a liking to the material and has teamed up with chemical giant Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW ) to develop ways to use lightweight carbon fiber in its vehicles in the next few years.
Why this sudden interest in shedding weight? Well, for starters, automakers are looking for ways to meet new fuel efficiency rules passed by the Obama administration. Secondly, carbon fiber might just make for better vehicle construction.
Carbon fiber + Dow = great strategy
President Obama announced the big goal for automakers last year: a performance standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Ford's tie-up with Dow brings it a step closer to this goal. One of the ways for automakers to ramp up fuel efficiency is to make their vehicles lighter, and Ford is aiming to reduce its vehicles' weight by 750 pounds. Carbon fiber is a light yet sturdy material used widely in luxury and sports cars and in the aerospace industry. Automakers haven't been too keen on the material for mainstream vehicles because of its high cost. Ford wants to change that, and together with Dow it will develop cheap carbon fiber composites and manufacturing methods that can be applied economically.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, carbon fiber has the potential to lower a vehicle's weight by nearly 50%. This could mean improving fuel efficiency by nearly 40%. Teaming up with a big brand name like Dow looks like a smart move. Dow is already expanding into the carbon fiber market, which is expected to become a huge one in the near future. Just last year it joined with the world's largest acrylic fiber maker, AKSA, to jointly manufacture and sell carbon fiber. Dow has also partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Others in the race
Ford isn't the first one to take a shot at lighter vehicles, though. In December of last year, rival General Motors (NYSE: GM ) announced it was setting up a carbon fiber joint venture with Japan's Teijin for mass production. Teijin is the world's second-largest carbon fiber manufacturer. Daimler and BMW are also getting ready to produce carbon fiber parts on a large scale in the next year or two.
The Foolish bottom line
Ford's investment in fuel efficiency technologies makes perfect sense, as they will clearly be needed down the line. And lighter vehicles aren't the only option Ford is weighing. Hybrids and electric vehicles are already a part of its plans. Want to learn more about Ford's bold moves? Simply click here and add Ford to your stock watchlist to stay updated.
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