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Report: Carbon fiber technology will help meet federal regulations, but may burden insurers and repairers

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July 28, 2010—Carbon fiber parts will lighten the load for carmakers in terms of increasing vehicle efficiency by reducing weight, but will pose many challenges for collision repairers and insurers, according to the Audatex Directions summer 2010 industry trends report.

Many carbon fiber parts cannot be repaired and must be totally replaced—costing up to five times more than aluminum parts and increasing insurance claim dollars, the report said. Whether the part is weaved or painted, carbon fiber is what seems to make the most difference.

“For many of the vehicles using exposed weave carbon fiber, the only repair option is part replacement unless dealing with small scratches, which can be sanded and buffed,” said Jason Bartanen of the I-CAR Tech Centre. “For painted carbon fiber parts, GM does allow for repair using SMC techniques for cracks and holes; provided they are not on the edge of the panel. The number of fenders that will qualify for this repair will likely be limited.”

“If the carbon fiber is damaged, or a scratch extends through the clear coating, the part generally can’t be repaired,” Bartanen added.

In addition, repairers will find that these parts cannot be easily disassembled without cutting or causing more damage due to adhesives bonding the components together.

But with new federal regulations calling for increases in fuel efficiency and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon fiber technology will allow automakers to come into compliance. Carbon fiber is five times as strong and two times as stiff as steel, while still being lighter than aluminum, according to the report. By reducing vehicle weight, fuel efficiency increases and emissions are reduced. Some estimates predict a 60 percent weight reduction if steel chassis components are replaced by carbon fiber components, the report said.

Currently, high production costs and limited manufacturing facilities are to blame for the high costs of carbon fiber. However, many automakers, such as BMW AG and Daimler AG, have announced plans to pursue this technology by building facilities or partnering with other carbon fiber manufacturers.

Carbon fiber parts represent a small percentage of replacement parts used today, but that number will only increase as time goes on. Insurers and repairers need to make sure they have the right estimating procedures in place to determine whether or not carbon fiber parts are standard equipment or if the parts would or would not represent an option, according to the report. Failure to include the correct part on the estimate could be a very expensive mistake for all parties involved.

To view the entire report, click here: newsletter.audatex.com/AudatexDirections_July2010.pdf.

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