Why the 2017 Corvette's Plastic Reinforcement is a Good Thing

The Corvette has long been a standout among sports cars. The very first 'Vettes rocked all-fiberglass bodies...and composite materials have been used on the Corvette ever since.

2017 vette 1

In keeping with tradition - and in a constant effort to make the Corvette lighter and faster - Chevy replaced the steel underbody braces with aluminum on the C7. However, if you're really serious about saving weight and improved handling, you can upgrade to composite plastic underbody bracing.

That's right: Building off GM's past composite success, the 2017 Chevrolet Corvette is available with composite underbody braces as a performance upgrade.

Why Composites?

Looking for a way to save some weight, GM engineers connected with PolyOne's Advanced Composites Glasforms team to discuss the possibility of replacing some metal with some plastic. Specifically, carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). CFRP has a lot of advantages:

  • Incredible torsional strength. Because CFRP is essentially sheets of tough plastic glued on top of the other, it's highly resistant to bending.
  • Cheaper than carbon fiber. CFRP has many of the strength properties of carbon fiber, but without the tedious curing process that pure carbon fiber parts require.
  • Lightweight. Plastics are light, and mixing in some carbon fibers with the plastic makes for a much stronger material without increasing weight.

On the C7, CFRP underbody braces are produced through the use of pultrusion technology (the method of pulling material through a resin to later be heated and shaped accordingly), Glasforms achieved a composite underbody brace that held up GM's performance standards.

After a series of tests were conducted at Wichita State University and after three separate compounds were evaluated, GM engineers arrived at a decision on the composite brace. According to polyone.com, GM then put the chosen composite through extensive vibration, shake, and road tests.

Why It Works

The purpose of such underbody braces is to reduce chassis sway, which improves handling. A total of four braces run diagonally from the edge of the chassis to the wheel suspension system. The key in producing composite braces was to emulate the tight handling that Corvette fans have come to know and love.

2017 vette 2

Here’s some fun facts about these plastic reinforcements:

  • The new brace system is 17% lighter than stock aluminum braces along with an increase in flexural stiffness and a maintained torsional rigidity that was tested to be slightly better than that of the aluminum braces.
  • Driving the Corvette Z06 for the 2016 Lightning Lap, Car and Driver’s testers were impressed by the new Corvette’s grip during high-speed turns.
  • These composites do not rust or corrode. The composite materials also increase long-term fatigue strength.
  • The use of composites not only deceases the overall weight but also increases acceleration and fuel economy of the car in which they are used.

What's Next?

The prospect of Chevy finding new ways of using such composite parts and implementing them into other models is exciting. Carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites could usher in new possibilities for vehicles that rely on heavier components comprised of aluminum and steel. We can’t wait to see how GM uses it next.