Corvette Engineers Create High-tech Auto Sunscreen
In an effort to produce lighter, more fuel-efficient and better handling models, Chevrolet Corvette features advanced materials such as carbon fiber.
Until now, exposed-weave carbon fiber, one of the coolest looks for fast, hot cars, was unavailable to consumers because the sun degrades the material on the exterior surface.
In fact, experts thought putting exposed carbon fiber on the outside of any retail car was nearly impossible. Painting over the carbon fiber was the only option. All that has changed due to an industry-first technology breakthrough: “sunscreen” for the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.
“Everyone said it couldn’t be done, and we were crazy for trying,” said Mark Voss, senior design engineer for the ZR1.
Undaunted, Voss and his team worked for three years on their own time to develop a glossy, UV-resistant clear coat that allows exposed carbon fiber to be used on the body of the car. It also shields the carbon fiber components from chips and scratches.
“Our challenge was finding a way to give our customers exposed-weave carbon fiber with the durability they have come to expect from a Corvette,” Voss said. “Other automakers have opted for fake attempts at a carbon-fiber look. With the Corvette ZR1, we wanted to give customers the real deal.”
Carbon fiber on the Corvette emerged from the technology transfer between the production Corvette and the Corvette C6.R that race in the American Le Mans Series. Carbon fiber reduces weight and improves stiffness compared to steel. Carbon fiber is approximately one-fifth the weight of steel and one-third the mass of traditional composite panels. That means a lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicle with a lower center of gravity for better handling on the road and on the race track.
For a consumer vehicle, exposed-weave carbon fiber, with its honeycombed appearance, offers the fuel efficiency of painted carbon fiber, but has a unique aesthetic.
The ZR1 features exposed-weave carbon fiber on the roof panel, roof bow, rocker moldings, front fascia splitter, and the underside of the hood. The ZR1 has carbon fiber floor panels as well, although not in the exposed-weave format. For the Corvette Z06, carbon fiber fenders and floor panels come standard with an optional package that includes splitters, rockers and roof panels.
Voss, a former drag racer, confirmed car nut, and incessant tinkerer says his passion for all things automotive fuels his imagination. “When I’m not at work with my Chevrolet colleagues developing new technologies, I’m at home working on one of my cars in the pole barn,” he said.
Voss’ “pole barn” is just one hoist shy of being a full-blown automotive shop. The heated and furnished 1,800-square-foot outbuilding includes car tech essentials such as a metal fabrication station. He has owned more than 50 cars in his lifetime; his current classic favorites being a 1979 Corvette and 1972 Chevrolet Blazer.