The excellent properties of carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs) have long allured material developers and industry users alike. However, due to high costs and other technical hurdles, thus far their use has been restricted to high-end niche applications. In order to forecast the penetration of CFRPs into both major and emerging target industries, we employed a rigorous modeling approach to examine cost reduction technologies at each step fo the manufacturing process, and the potential for these innovations to be combined with industry requirements that drive adoption. Our results reveal that polyolefin-precursor carbon fiber combined with alternative thermal treatment mechanisms will reduce cost from a baseline of $21.2/kg today to $10.5/kg at pilot-line scale in 2017. The total CFRP market will reach $36 billion in 2020, driven by an intense duel between aerospace and wind for overall supremacy, while innovations will advance high-volume automotive at a pedestrian pace.