If you wonder where the German car companies are going with carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), keep an eye on their investments. BMW just announced acquisition of a 15.2% ownership of SGL Carbon SE,which makes carbon fiber composites. Earlier this year, VW
bought a 10% stake in the same company. CFRP parts will be used on the chassis of BMW’s i3 and i8 electric vehicles. They are due for release in 2014. German Tier One Voith holds a 9.1% stake in SGL Carbon.
Carbon fibers and composites represented 16% of the company’s sales last year at $295.5 million. SGL has a capacity to produce 4,000 metric tons of carbon fiber in Europe and 2,000 metric tons in the USA. In addition, a joint venture in the USA has a 3,000 metric ton capacity to produce carbon fiber in its first stage.
US car makers seem more hopeful of short-term gains with more traditional (but heavier) glass-reinforced composites. The United States Council for Automotive Research LLC (USCAR), the collaborative automotive technology organization of Chrysler, Ford Motor and General Motors, has been researching the concept of a traditional composite
automotive floor pan.
No surprise here, the US auto design community tends to be more conservative, and focused on large-scale production. The German manufacturers can experiment more with short-run vehicles. BMW and Mercedes like the image of using more expensive, leading-edge technology.