While Alfa's latest creation may seem to pin consumers between power and price, the Italians have hid something quite special under the 4C's bonnet. To date, carbon fiber monocoque chassis have been reserved for supercar manufactures because of the extreme cost associated with their creation.
A carbon fiber chassis is made by weaving strips of carbon strands into a sheet. The sheet of weaved carbon is then positioned along with more sheets into a mathematically determined position in the shape of the chassis. The molded sheets of carbon fiber are then placed into a large oven; this hardens the carbon and makes the chassis rigid.
Carbon fiber increases chassis rigidity and reduces weight significantly over aluminum and steel alternatives. Reducing the weight of a car improves everything: top speed, acceleration, handling, circuit speed, and of course your precious fuel consumption.
McLaren's comparison between their all-new MP4-12C's carbon fiber tub (left) and their original Formula 1 carbon fiber tub (right).
Alfa Romeo brings carbon fiber to a market sector that has yet to even hear a whisper of its inevitability. Unfortunately, the cost of production surrounding carbon fiber hasn't dropped as far as the Italians were hoping, and the 4C is now estimated to start at $86 thousand instead of the originally hoped $60 thousand arena; however, this does not stop carbon fiber's march toward affordability for the masses. Alfa Romeo and Maserati's continued and increased production of the material will create a technological push toward reducing the costs and efficiency of creating carbon fiber, not just by the Fiat subsidiaries, but also by their competitors eager to introduce carbon fiber structures into their own sub-supercar performance cars.
Maserati workers preparing the Alfa Romeo 4C's chassis.
Alfa Romeo's newest sportscar will break down the synonymous association carbon fiber has with supercars and begin in lowering the costs of production so that the Formula 1 spec super material can finally reach the mouths of the average consumer. In 10 years or less, we will see our favorite $25,000 sports cars implementing carbon fiber structures (Miata anyone?), and in 20 years time, we may even see our not-so-favorite-eco-friendly-sedans start using carbon fiber in an attempt to save precious gasoline.
[Some numbers from Car and Driver]