Carbon fiber wheels: a costly upgrade, but better performance?

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As the industry looks to meet tough new fuel economy targets while still stepping ahead in performance, safety, sophistication, and on-board technology, watching weight by moving to advanced materials like carbon fiber is going to be increasingly common.

Using carbon fiber for parts, panels, and structural pieces (and even in the upcoming BMW i3, for the entire body structure) is widely seen as a strategy to shave extra pounds. Meanwhile, an Australian company, Carbon Revolution, has shown how carbon-fiber weight reduction could be bolted right in: with special wheels.

Carbon Revolution claims to have the world's first one-piece carbon-fiber wheels, and they're already available in very limited numbers for the Porsche 911.

The 19x8.5 and 19x12 wheels mount directly on any of the water-cooled models, accept the original factory center caps, and are compatible with the OEM tire-pressure monitoring system. And on a 911, Carbon Revolution cites a weight savings of more than ten pounds for each wheel (a total of 41.2 pounds, or 18.7 kg).

Now for the sticker shock: At a cost about $15,000 a set, they'll significantly lighten your wallet, too. But the company does point out that this is the equivalent of adding horsepower, bolstering the brakes, improving grip, upgrading the suspension, and/or adding more sound insulation.

A high cost, but big benefits?

The net benefit to automotive enthusiasts (or chassis engineers) is that you have a 40- to 50-percent reduction in unsprung mass—which can yield lighter, shaper steering, better handling, and even better acceleration, while reducing noise, vibration, and road harshness. They allow some natural damping from the material itself, which is what helps them achieve impressive gains in the 9-20 Hz 'secondary ride' frequencies that are especially troublesome for chassis engineers to tune out.

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