Monday, October 19, 2009

McLaren new use of composites for MP4-12C

McLaren unveils new supercar

McLaren Automotive has unveiled its new high performance sports car, the McLaren MP4-12C. The car is based around a carbon fibre composite chassis: the Carbon MonoCell.

The McLaren MP4-12C is intended to be the first in a range of high-performance sports cars from McLaren Automotive, the independent car division based at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, UK. The MP4-12C is a two-seat mid-engine model in the ‘core’ sports car market segment for cars costing £125 000-175 000.

The heart of the new car is the Carbon MonoCell. McLaren pioneered carbon composite construction in the 1981 Formula 1 MP4/1 race car. It brought carbon fibre technology to road cars with the 1993 McLaren F1 supercar and then built on this experience with a carbon fibre chassis and body on the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (2003-2009).

The 12C MonoCell weighs less than 80 kg. Its torsional rigidity is considerably stiffer than a comparable alloy structure. This inherent lack of flex means the front suspension system, which is mounted directly onto the MonoCell, requires less compromise for flex of the suspension itself. The MonoCell also acts as a safety survival cell, as it does in a Formula 1 car.

In the event of an accident, the light weight aluminium alloy front and rear structures are designed to absorb impact forces in a crash and can be replaced relatively easily. Aluminium extrusions and castings are jig welded into the finished assembly and bolted directly to the MonoCell. Cars with full aluminium chassis use their structure to absorb and crumple on impact, which implies more fundamental damage to the whole structure, including the passenger cell, in a major accident.

McLaren reports that it has developed a new carbon fibre production process that allows the hollow MonoCell to be produced to exacting quality standards, in a single piece, in only four hours. Typically, dozens of carbon components (and dozens of production hours) feature in a carbon fibre chassis structure.

The Carbon MonoCell not only reduces the weight of the structure but also allows for the use of much lighter weight body panels.