This blog has periodically posted articles on the growing use of carbon fiber composites, noting their strength and light weight, relative to steel, and their downside of high cost. These materials are now in prime use in large airliners and in expensive cars, but have only slowly started to penetrate the mass automobile market. Continued research, both in government-sponsored laboratories and by companies such as BMW and Teijin is promising lower manufacturing costs and car companies are obviously interested in greater use of composites to meet the new CAFE requirements, reducing fuel consumption via lower weight cars.. Projections are, in fact, showing much greater use in cars over the next decade(lowest field in graphic). Research in going on in several areas, including use of lower purity (less expensive) polyacrylonitrile, other monomers, lower production costs and cycle times, etc.
Another factor is, however, at work. The objective of the fuel economy standards is reduced total carbon dioxide emissions, which relates both to specific fuel consumption (miles per gallon of fuel) and and total miles driven. Car manufacturers get credit for the production of electric cars and hybrids, which obviously act to lower the total emissions of the entire fleet. Megatrends are also changing driving habits. Thus, using cars for personal transportation in the developed world is undergoing substantial change, and production of much smaller cars is increasing. Also, online shopping and telecommuting will reduce the use of personal cars. All of this this will affect the number of large passenger cars that are not hybrids or electric and will have to be taken into account as the large car manufacturers contemplate the fleet size and mix of cars they will produce by 2020 and beyond.