Aerospace and marine manufacturing are very receptive to composite materials like carbon fiber. Auto manufacturing, not so much. Auto makers would truly love to use more carbon fiber in their designs, but they cannot justify the cost of doing so on a large scale. That may be about to change. In fact, composites in the automotive sector in general are about to change the entire composites game.
Carbon fiber has been on the radar for quite some time among automakers looking to build viable electric vehicles (EVs) capable of competing with their fossil fuel counterparts in terms of range, comfort, and safety. Range is the biggest concern. An EV has to have a comparable range or people will not buy it. Carbon fiber is a material that can increase range even as manufacturers work on improving battery technology.
That brings us to the main topic of this post: a British automotive manufacturer on the verge of introducing a complete range of all electric commercial vehicles. They have come up with some revolutionary ways to harness the benefits of composites to produce EVs that really do compete very well.
A Proprietary Composite Material
The company in question is known as Arrival. Its main focus is the commercial sector, where the demand for EVs is quite real. Commercial vehicles are big targets among UK lawmakers looking to reduce greenhouse gases and clean up cities. Fleet owners understand that they will be better off in the long run if they are able to convert to all-electric fleets.
Arrival wants to hasten the conversion. To that end, they have created a proprietary composite material they say will be the primary component in their commercial vans. They are not saying exactly what this material is, but our guess would be some form of carbon fiber composite enhanced with proprietary resins.
The material itself is just the beginning. Arrival's design takes full advantage of the material in every respect. Its light weight, strength, and fabrication capabilities are such that Arrival is fully confident they will set the standard for future commercial EVs.
A Unique Modular Design
Perhaps the crowning achievement of Arrival's commercial fleet is their impressive skateboard frame. It is essentially a flat platform that hosts the vehicle's motor, transmission, batteries, and other mechanical components. The skateboard frame doesn't change from one model to the next. Every Arrival model is built on this platform.
Customization is achieved by way of vehicle body and interior components. Arrival claims to have come up with fabricating and prototyping capabilities that allow them to make several different kinds of bodies that all fit seamlessly on the platform. Moreover, body panels are modular as well.
Individual body panels are bonded together with chemical resins. This eliminates the need for joiners and welding. It also means that that panels can be mixed and matched to create whatever body type the customer wants. And because the frame platform never changes, developing new body styles and new models is fairly easy and fast. Arrival can get its new models to production a lot quicker than would be possible via old manufacturing methods.
There is no reason to believe that Arrival will not succeed. If they do, they will change the way auto makers think about carbon fiber and EVs. They will also have a huge lead in supplying the commercial sector with all electrics. That lead will be huge by the time everyone else catches up.
The future of automotive composites looks pretty bright thanks to EVs. Now we wait to see where it all goes.