DETROIT - Carbon fiber has become the new "black" for auto designers.
The composite is showing up on a spectrum of concept cars and prototypes at auto shows, both on predictable vehicles - high-end "super" sports cars - and the unexpected, including a roadster concept aimed at selling for less than $20,000.
Whether any of the dream cars makes it into production with the composite still on board is hard to predict, but the number of vehicles rolling out with it shows an increasing interest in the material.
"They're all over us in terms of looking at what can be done with carbon fiber," says Steve McKenzie, president of Meridian Automotive Systems' exterior composites group.
Suppliers, universities, automakers, resin suppliers and composites experts are researching ways to make carbon fiber a more economical alternative.
The attraction is easy to understand, says David White, chairman of the Automotive Composites Alliance's executive committee and vice president of sales and marketing for Meridian, of Dearborn, Mich. In addition, the high strength and low weight of the material make it possible to fine-tune structural systems.
"There's some prestige," White says. "People are willing to pay for performance and prestige."