Israeli firm designs new lightweight car body structure

by Julian Rendell, Autocar UK 06 Nov 2020

A new lightweight carbon-and-composite car body structure could revolutionise the way electric cars are made in the next decade. Designed by Israeli defence and body panel company Plasan, it’s claimed to offer a weight reduction of up to 45 percent over steel bodies and 20 percent over aluminium bodies.

Plasan has presented the new technology to global OEMs and motorsports companies, including some based in the UK, and recently went public with it.

“We’re hopeful that in two to three years, there will be components built using our technology, with a full body following some years later,” chief designer Nir Kahn told Autocar UK in an exclusive interview.

At the heart of Plasan’s technology are pull-extrusion ‘pultrusion’ carbonfibre beams with carbonfibre filaments distributed continuously through the full length of the tube walls – resulting in very strong, stiff yet light structural members.

Each beam is bonded into composite body panels to make semi-structural bodysides, floor and roof. Then these sub-assemblies are joined with metal ‘nodes’. The nodes are made from two-piece pressed aluminium, intended to speed assembly.

Plasan believes its design is a breakthrough because bodies can be built using existing production line equipment and with the same basic techniques as a conventional steel unibody.

“We really see high production scale possible on cars – this isn’t limited to defence or motorsport applications – with annual production rates in the hundreds of thousands a year feasible,” said Plasan’s boss of composites, Ronen Berger.

Although carbonfibre body technology is relatively expensive, Plasan estimates that the cost to save each kilogramme of weight in an electric car is justifiable at $10 (about £7.70) per kg.

“This makes it more cost effective than other methods of improving efficiency or range of electric cars,” said Kahn. “There’s a virtuous spiral by cutting weight”.