The development of the latest generation of wide-body carbon-fibre composite passenger aircraft has heralded a new era in the utilisation of these materials. The premise of superior specific strength and stiffness, corrosion and fatigue resistance, is tempered by high development costs, slow production rates and lengthy and expensive certification programmes. Substantial effort is currently being directed towards the development of new modelling and simulation tools, at all levels of the development cycle, to mitigate these shortcomings. One of the primary challenges is to reduce the extent of physical testing, in the certification process, by adopting a ‘certification by simulation’ approach. In essence, this aspirational objective requires the ability to reliably predict the evolution and progression of damage in composites. The aerospace industry has been at the forefront of developing advanced composites modelling tools. As the automotive industry transitions towards the increased use of composites in mass-produced vehicles, similar challenges in the modelling of composites will need to be addressed, particularly in the reliable prediction of crashworthiness. While thermoset composites have dominated the aerospace industry, thermoplastics composites are likely to emerge as the preferred solution for meeting the high-volume production demands of passenger road vehicles. This keynote paper outlines recent progress and current challenges in the development of finite-element-based predictive modelling tools for capturing impact damage, residual strength and energy absorption capacity of thermoset and thermoplastic composites for crashworthiness assessments.