General Motors has announced they will be beginning regular production of a carbon-fiber cargo bed in the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali and Sierra AT4. This material has not been regularly used in automotive production before and GM hopes to apply it to other vehicle models in the future.
While vehicles rely on a lot of materials and substances to be manufactured and run properly, like steel, aluminum, and oil, which is produced in more than four billion metric tons around the world every year, carbon fiber is a durable and lightweight material that is typically not used in vehicles. But with more and more regulations regarding fuel economy being introduced, GM and other automakers are having to find ways to make their larger vehicles, like trucks, more efficient.
Truck beds are typically steel and even though stainless steel can contain more than 60% post-industrial recycled material, it’s still quite heavy. Switching to the CarbonPro cargo bed will shave off 62 pounds compared to traditional steel. Furthermore, when the ability to get rid of bed liners is considered, almost 100 pounds can be lost. And although it’s much lighter, it still has the same impact resistance of steel.
Not only is the new cargo bed lighter, but it can be designed differently too — the carbon fiber can be produced with molded floor cavities to help secure motorcycles safely and add extra room for cargo.
GM has been fighting the high cost of carbon fiber by using a combination of as many as 13 different materials to help improve the fuel economy of their vehicles, as well as driving performance and the overall quietness of the truck.
Experimenting with different methods, GM has found a new way to use bonding and adhesion methods to work with the expensive material — and the automaker plans to continue working on refining the method.
According to Mark Voss, engineering group manager for GM’s pickup boxes, GM had to do a lot more development and testing that is usually needed for a standard steel bed — GM has been working on the carbon fiber box for about eight years.
“Steel boxes have been around for 100 years; you don’t have to do that level of developmental work on a steel box. Once you do the production design, you validate it [by the] normal process,” Voss explained.
And during tests of their new product, GM was able to show just how much better the new bed is than steel options and even Ford’s choice of aluminum. GM put their work to the test, throwing sledgehammers and cinder blocks onto the carbon fiber bed, their own pickup trucks with steel beds, and the F-150. Unfortunately for Ford, some of the objects pierced right through the F-120 bed. GM engineers recorded the tests, showing that the carbon fiber beds were barely impacted by the heavy objects.
With there being about six million car accidents every year, automakers are always striving to make their vehicles more durable and safe. And the use of carbon fiber for new truck beds will increase durability, safety, and sustainability all at once.