Most performance enthusiasts are well versed in the benefits of carbon-fiber, but if GM has its way your mom could be extolling the virtues of the space age material as well. In fact, as GM exec Tom Wallace pointed out in a recent interview, "carbon is one-fifth the weight of a composite, which is half the weight of steel." Wallace is currently in charge of GM’s sports car line, which includes cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, Cadillac XLR, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky and Opel/Vauxhall GT, and he’s also part of a team investigating how high-volume, mainstream models can benefit from carbon in the same way that the Corvette ZR1 does.

The key reason to use more carbon is to reduce the weight of a car and thus reduce its fuel consumption, something all carmakers will have to consider in light of toughening fuel economy and emissions standards. The ZR1's carbon fiber parts include the roof, hood, front spoiler, front fenders, side rocker panels and rear spoiler and saves about 35 pounds over the weight of the standard Corvette. This same weight saving could be achieved in other vehicles but there’s one major problem.

One of the main reasons carmakers don’t slap carbon pieces onto all of their cars is because of the high cost and complexity of manufacturing it. But like any new technology there’s always a declining cost curve associated with it. “Although carbon fiber is expensive today, so was aluminum in the beginning, so was magnesium in the beginning," Wallace explained to Automotive News. Carbon-fiber is currently in high demand and is relatively scarce compared to other materials such as steel and aluminum. It doesn't help that aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus are manufacturing their next-generation planes using composite materials and driving prices higher than ever before. The good news is that more companies are starting producing of the material and prices should come down soon.

GM is not the only carmaker determined to use more carbon. Toyota has just announced a joint venture with a carbon fiber company, and other carmakers are expected to follow suit. According to Wallace it will take ten years alone to know the feasibility of carbon fiber, so don’t expect next year’s Chevy Malibu or Impala to be draped in the advanced material.