Carbon fiber has finally broken out of its European supercar niche.
The 2013 SRT Viper and the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Corvette have carbon fiber hoods and other parts, and the Corvette's production is likely to top 20,000 units this year.
That's a far cry from the early days of carbon fiber, when a hand-built component took hours to produce and was too costly for volume vehicles.
That's the good news. The bad news is that carbon fiber is still expensive. The raw material for a carbon fiber part costs $10 to $15 a pound, according to one estimate.
That cost must fall to $5 a pound for economical mass production, industry insiders say.
Some suppliers are working hard to bring down the cost because carbon fiber is strong and lightweight. General Motors says the material is 10 times stronger than steel but weighs one-fourth as much.
A look at the production techniques of Plasan Carbon Composites, the supplier of hoods for the Viper and Corvette, illustrates some of the challenges.
Because the Viper's hood is so large, it is made by hand in a process that takes 90 minutes. In a plant in Bennington, Vt., workers place layer after layer of carbon fiber fabric pre-impregnated with resin on a mold in an autoclave, or special oven, which then is heated.