Emerging high-end wheel technology appears headed for the mainstream
Carbon fiber is the automobile’s future, and today’s frontier is the wheel: exploring the myths and realities of using the material in place of steel and aluminum.
WAY BACK IN the early 1970s, Michelin made a run of composite glass-fiber and resin wheels for Citroën’s SM-based rally car. The first car equipped with them won its first race, the 1971 Morocco Rally. By 1972 they were offered as a factory option for buyers of road-going SMs.
In the 1980s, Dodge and Carroll Shelby teamed up for the CSX, the final version of which, the 1989 CSXVNT, wore a set of composite wheels called Fiberrides. Like the Michelin/Citroën wheels before them, the Fiberrides were a composite glass fiber construction.
Fast-forward to 2013, when boutique hypercar maker Koenigsegg began offering carbon-fiber onepiece wheels for its 250-plus-mph ground-bound spaceships. They’re quite a pretty penny, however: A set of four will set you back about $40,000—on top of the roughly $2 million price tag for one of its cars.
Today, Porsche is the only mainstream automaker developing one-piece carbon-fiber wheels in-house, and there’s just one supplier, Carbon Revolution, manufacturing them for production cars, including the Ford GT, Mustang GT350R, and several upcoming models from other brands—though there are a number of other outfits making “hybrid” carbon/alloy wheels for the aftermarket. Carbon Revolution has big plans to scale up from the tens of thousands of one-piece carbon-fiber wheels it says it will produce this year into the hundreds of thousands if not millions as it moves into the next decade. Sooner if co-founder Brett Gass has his way.
“We’ve got a program underway that’s a 22-inch carbon-fiber wheel for a very serious off-road SUV,” Gass said. “And those types of volumes in that world, those are tens of thousands of vehicles. Those are big programs.”
Carbon Revolution is also working with Ferrari on wheels for the 488 Pista, as editor-in-chief Mike Floyd learned at this year’s Geneva auto show. “We were very demanding with the style,” Edoardo Rossi,
Ferrari product marketing manager for the 488 Pista, said of Ferrari’s work with Carbon Revolution to develop the Pista’s special wheel option. “The spokes are not huge spokes that you see in normal carbonfiber components. They are very thin, so it was an adjustment. Then we developed together the solution that you see inside, the white coating. It is basically a coating developed from aerospace to preserve the carbon wheel from the heating of the brakes.”