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Your next family sedan may have a carbon-fiber subframe

Ford and Magna are hard at work on finding new uses for composite materials in ordinary passenger cars.

Magna Composite Subframe
This is the only picture Magna's released of its subframe, so you can tell it's still very much in development.

Structural components made from carbon fiber remain the stuff of six-figure supercars, save for BMW's new Carbon Core tech. Ford is working with supplier Magna to see if it can use the material in a much more approachable manner.

Magna and Ford have teamed up to develop a carbon-fiber-composite subframe. It takes 45 steel parts and replaces them with two molded parts and four additional metallic pieces. That's a part reduction of 87 percent, and thanks to carbon fiber's lightweight properties, overall mass is down about 34 percent.

It's the first time Magna's put its efforts behind using carbon fiber as a structural component. In the past, it's been responsible for the hood of the CTS-V and ATS-V, as well as a grille reinforcement for the Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500.

But carbon fiber's strength and low mass confers benefits beyond the track. Less mass to push around means increased fuel efficiency and reduced tailpipe emissions. Cost is a factor, yes, but if it can be produced on a large enough scale with high enough demand, the costs will lower and it'll be feasible for more affordable transportation.

Right now, the parts are still very much in development. Ford will use the prototypes for testing on its vehicles. Testing will look at how well the parts hold up to corrosion and rock chips, two big concerns for an exposed underbody component.

Subframes are vital components of unibody vehicles. They help distribute chassis load and hold front-end parts like the engine and drivetrain. They can be made from tubes or stamped steel. When you see a vehicle assembly line where a body is dropped over an engine, it's usually bolted to a subframe, which is then bolted to the body and dampened with rubber bushings.