Cars manufactured today have to meet stringent safety norms, be environmentally friendly and be economical to make. The materials that are normally used to build cars range from steel, aluminium, and magnesium, to various types of plastics, glass, and rubber. Carbon fibre has also been used extensively as a durable yet light-weight material in sports cars. There are cars that have had rare materials used as well like the 16g of gold used as a heat-reflector for the McLaren F1’s engine and titanium exhausts that are used in many supercars.
Whether it’s a bid to make a car unique or more eco-friendly, the list below has some really off-beat materials used to make important bits of cars:
This is a synthetic and extremely light-weight material used by NASA as cosmic dust catchers and thermal insulators. It has been used as the latter on their spacesuits and on the Mars Rover, named Curiosity.
Chevrolet has used this space-age material as a thermal insulator on its 2014 Corvette C7 sports car to keep the heat from the transmission tunnel from entering the cabin. This makes the Chevrolet Corvette C7 unique as it features space-age technology while using push rods in its engine, a technology that harks back to the early 20th century.
In May 2016 Bruce Michael Dietzen from Florida used a Mazda MX-5 chassis to build a “high-performance” sports convertible out of cannabis hemp. The body panels on the car are reportedly made from three plies of woven hemp, making it lighter than cars made from fibreglass. This makes it nearly 10-times more dent-proof compared to using steel body panels. Dietzen used about 45kg of the illegal plant fibre that he had to import from China.
The eco-friendly car runs on a bio fuel made from recycled agricultural waste and cost Dietzen about $200,000 (£ 153,000) to make. He hopes that this “green machine” will help combat the taboo against cannabis.
Ford has been at the forefront of experimenting with different materials to build its cars. At a Ford-sponsored panel discussion on 16 August 2016 in San Francisco, the American manufacturer revealed that it had been working in conjunction with tequila maker José Cuervo to use a by-product created in the production of tequila to make a plastic-like material. The by-product, agave-fibre, is infused with plastics creating a more robust bioplastic that can be used in the dashboards, storage bins and wire harnesses in cars.
Besides creating a more robust form of plastic, using an otherwise discarded material is quite a boon to the environment.
The need to stand out in a crowd has been wholeheartedly embraced by Bentley Motors. Its super-luxurious cars carry massive price tags for good reason. Even though wood isn’t a logical material to be used when making a car, Bentley wants to demonstrate its distinctiveness. As Autocar had revealed a couple of years ago, the British manufacturer has a wood shop near its manufacturing facility at Crewe.
The exquisite woodwork seen in their cars like the Mulsanne and Continental is handcrafted from walnut, cherry and oak. This veneer comes from a tree’s root ball found underground. After painstakingly cutting, decorating and sanding the wood, it is then sent to the assembly plant where it is incorporated into Bentley’s cars.
Kenaf (Hibiscus flower)
Ford has used kenaf fibre composites to replace the injection-molded plastic in the doors of their current generation Escape compact crossover. The material was traditionally used to make cords and sails for boats but its usage in the car has seen the weight of the part decrease by 25%.
It is not enough that the new Focus Electric doesn’t burn fossil fuels. Ford wanted the car to be even more environment friendly and has used fibre made from coconut husks in the trim panels and foot and trunk mats in the interior. Not only is this unique, it also reduces the usage of petroleum-made plastics.
Ford has taken eco-friendliness to new levels by using recycled jeans to insulate the 2016 Focus’ engine bay. Besides providing heat-shielding, the recycled material is used to decrease NVH (Noise, vibration, and harshness) levels in its hatchback.