On Friday, GM signed a partnership agreement with Teijin Limited, a Japanese company that specializes in carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic technology.
Teijin has developed an automotive molding process that cuts the cycle times of its carbon fiber components to under a minute. Other carbon fiber companies use thermosetting resin processes that take more than five times longer to set, according to Teijin. These longer molding times are a primary reason why carbon fiber has been so expensive and limited to high-end performance cars.
Teijin won both a Frost & Sullivan 2011 Global Automotive Carbon Composites Technology Innovation Award and a Best Product Innovation Award at the ICIS Innovation Awards 2011 for its technology.
GM believes that with Teijin's foundation in carbon fiber, the companies will be able to effectively mass produce and apply carbon fiber, making it less expensive, and practical for applications beyond expensive cars. GM doesn't just envision using carbon fiber on the likes of Cadillacs and Corvettes, but also on mainstream, everyday cars, trucks and crossovers.
"Our relationship with Teijin provides the opportunity to revolutionize the way carbon fiber is used in the automotive industry, said GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky. "This technology holds the potential to be an industry game changer and demonstrates GM's long-standing commitment to innovation."
Next year, Teijin will break ground on the Teijin Composites Application Center in the northern part of the United States so that it can collaborate more closely with GM.
Carbon fiber is both 10 times stronger than regular-grade steel and a quarter of the weight. Exotic automakers like McLaren and Lamborghini have capitalized on this combination of properties to create cars that have the structural integrity and light weight necessary to get as much out of their big, powerful engines as possible.
The Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, a concept-turned-limited-production-model, is a showcase for the performance potential of carbon fiber and other composites. The car uses carbon fiber-reinforced plastics throughout major components like the chassis, suspension and body, along with a stripped-down build (the interior was basically just the raw carbon tub with seats) to cut weight down to 2,202 lbs. (999 kg). Resulting performance, as provided by Lamborghini, is a 2.5-second dash to 62 mph (100 km/h), making the 570-hp (419 kW) car every bit as quick as the Bugatti Veyron.
GM, of course, isn't interested in using carbon fiber to build bullet-quick supercars, but to take advantage of the other benefit of low weight: cleaner, more efficient driving. Using carbon fiber will help GM to greatly reduce the weight of its vehicles, which in turn will increase the fuel economy of its fleet, helping the automaker to meet government-imposed restrictions. More efficiency is also a big selling point for consumers.
The companies haven't detailed any specific applications for their automotive carbon fiber work but stated that such applications will be announced closer to market readiness.
We look forward to seeing how this partnership develops. A push to bring carbon fiber to the mass market is certainly an intriguing turn.