Even as the automotive sector continues to be cautious about carbon fiber as a building material, truck manufacturers appear to be deadlocked in a race to see who can use more carbon fiber at a faster pace. Every time you turn around it seems like a manufacturer has found a new and better way to use carbon fiber parts. Rest assured there are reasons for the mad race.
Carbon fiber is attractive for motor vehicle manufacturing of all kinds due to its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, according to the composites experts at Rock West Composites. It makes for a very worthy replacement of aluminum and steel because it is lighter and stronger than both. Unfortunately, it is also expensive. And yet truck manufacturers do not seem as concerned about expense as their car making counterparts. Why?
More Strict Load Limits
Among the most important driving factors are increasingly more strict load limits. In many places around the world, Europe especially, governments are tightening load restrictions to prevent trucks from getting any heavier. That is all well and good, but it prevents trucking companies from maximizing efficiency by increasing the amount of freight they carry with each truck.
Maximizing efficiency while still complying with the law means reducing the unladen weight of trucks and their trailers. Lighter equipment allows for heavier cargo and, at least theoretically, more profitable loads. Carbon fiber suits the agenda quite well.
The easiest way for manufacturers to employ a carbon fiber strategy is to concentrate on trailers. They can eliminate steel frame rails and replace them with carbon fiber rails instead. They can also utilize carbon fiber for bulkheads and loading ramps if they so choose. In short, they can do a lot with carbon fiber to reduce the overall weight of trailers so that those trailers can carry more cargo.
The Race toward All-Electrics
Another driving factor is the ongoing race to come up with an all-electric truck. Unlike with cars, there does not seem to be a desire among trucking companies to produce a diesel-electric hybrid. Manufacturers seem to be intent on an all-or-nothing approach. This leaves them with the task of finding a way to build trucks that are not terribly inhibited by heavy batteries.
Seeing that they are powerless to change battery weight, manufacturers need to make up that weight elsewhere. Thus, they are incorporating more carbon fiber into tractors as well. Truck frames are more likely to be based more in carbon fiber than steel. Engine compartments and other steel parts are up for grabs as well.
Of course, using so much carbon fiber ultimately increases the retail cost of a new truck and trailer. Such is the problem faced by the automotive industry. It explains why carmakers are still so cautious about carbon fiber as a building material. They cannot afford to make their cars too expensive if they want people to keep buying them.
Truck manufacturers are at a bit of an advantage here inasmuch as trucks are considered business equipment for all intents and purposes. Trucks heavily laden with carbon fiber are more expensive, but their higher costs can be covered by charging customers higher prices.
It’s Anyone’s Race
To date, no single truck manufacturer seems to have a clear competitive edge. It is anyone’s race at this point. In the meantime, trucking companies will be the main beneficiaries as they have access to lighter trucks and trailers that allow them to carry more cargo without exceeding load restrictions. One day they might be doing so with all-electric trucks.