The annual Geneva Motor Show is a place to go see some of the best concept cars entertaining the thoughts and imaginations of engineers. This year’s show featured an exceptional selection of composite-heavy vehicles from numerous manufacturers. Composites are playing an ever-expanding role in creating lighter, stronger cars.
One such car is the Polestar 1 from Volvo. Polestar is actually a new nameplate representing Volvo’s foray into the electric arena. Polestar 1 was featured at the Geneva Motor Show thanks to what designers were able to accomplish with composites. Since Geneva, Volvo has been making a point of getting the word out. They credit CFRP composites with making the car a reality.
A Higher Demand for Electrics
Geneva’s list of electric entrants is not surprising given how Europe views the electric car. More so than any other place in the world, Europe is demanding an end to the internal combustion engine. It stands to reason that manufacturers would focus their efforts on developing cars for the European market first, then adapt those cars to other markets. That is exactly what’s happening.
The Polestar 1 is clearly intended for European drivers. The body is more or less an electric built from a two-door Volvo S-90. It is a plugin hybrid that Volvo claims can travel as much as 93 miles just on its batteries. The company claims to already have interest from some 5,000 buyers. They hope to have it ready for production sometime around the middle of 2019.
As for the role composites are playing, it is significant. According to Composites Manufacturing magazine, the Polestar 1’s body relies heavily on CFRP plastics. Volvo says that the use of the composites has allowed them to reduce the overall weight of the car by some 500 pounds. At the same time, the torsional stiffness has been improved by 45%.
Reduced Weight Equals More Miles
One of the big advantages of CFRP plastics is lower weight cost. In the world of electric vehicles, weight is the biggest problem. Manufacturers and designers have to find safer ways to shed weight so that electric motors have to work less to move greater distances. Knocking 500 pounds off the Polestar 1 is an impressive step in the right direction.
Limited distances are the one thing hindering electric cars in this country. In Europe, it is less of an issue. People rely more heavily on public transportation for long distances than we do. Hence, much of their driving is city driving. A range of 93 miles per charge is more comfortable for European drivers.
CFRP Plastics Are the Way to Go
A trade-off of reduced weight – at least when you’re talking about steel and aluminum – is less rigidity and torsional stiffness. That’s why Volvo chose CFRP plastics. Rock West Composites, a Utah company that specializes in CFRP products, explains that CFRP is the perfect choice because of the way it’s made.
CFRP stands for ‘carbon fiber reinforced polymer’. To make a body panel, a carmaker takes sheets of carbon fiber fabric and layers them in a mold. Each sheet is saturated in an epoxy resin. The completed mold is sealed and evacuated to remove the air. The entire thing is then exposed to high heat in order to cure the resin. The finished product is a plastic part reinforced by the carbon fiber sheets embedded in it.
Volvo is on the right track with the Polestar 1. Along with their competitors, they are getting Europe ready for the era of all-electrics. That era may be upon us sooner than many previously anticipated.