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GM looking to bring carbon fiber to mainstream cars

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December 12, 2011

Teijin Senior Managing Director Norio Kamei (left) and GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky shake...

Teijin Senior Managing Director Norio Kamei (left) and GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky shake hands after signing the carbon fiber deal (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)

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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.

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work.   All articles by C.C. Weiss
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11 Comments

Sounds like Government Motors is going to burn through a bunch more taxpayers money.

Slowburn
12th December, 2011 @ 11:53 pm PST

Would be a lot happier if they decided to use more hemp fibre. I understand it would be somewhat better for the environment too.

Mike Hallett
13th December, 2011 @ 07:51 am PST

They may be spending taxpayer money, but at least they're spending it on making better cars instead of buying private jets.

AngryPenguin
13th December, 2011 @ 09:01 am PST

re; AngryPenguin

For people who fly a lot a private jet can be more cost effective than flying commercial.

Slowburn
13th December, 2011 @ 10:15 am PST

Wingless air vehicles are coming. Stay away from ICE.

Stewart Mitchell
13th December, 2011 @ 10:57 am PST

Speaking of bio fiber substitution; bamboo has superior tensile strength to grade 40 steel with compressive strength superior to concrete.

mikalasabir
13th December, 2011 @ 11:43 am PST

"...GM's long standing commitment to innovation."?? If there was any truth to that GM would not be dying. It would still be a world leader. This partnership "demonstrates" a last gasp attempt to employ leap frog technology. I'll bet they screw it up, but I hope I'm wrong. I've been waiting 44 years for them to wake up and build a sexy, light weight, low drag, economic coup.

voluntaryist
13th December, 2011 @ 06:51 pm PST

Great to see the technology will be applied to everyday cars.

I suspect within a decade carbon-fibre reinforced plastic will be the standard material for all vehicle bodies form cars to trucks trains and planes due to the performance advantages it offers.

Its a particularly attractive material for electric cars as it presents the virtuous cycle of decreasing car and battery weight and increasing range. In a decade, range anxiety in electric cars could be a thing of the past.

pete2100
13th December, 2011 @ 08:21 pm PST

Beyond carbon fibre are the nano materials. There commercial manufacture should be focused on. They have superior capabilities.

Dawar Saify
16th December, 2011 @ 05:00 pm PST

Stewart Mitchell - Please explain "Wingless air vehicles are coming. Stay away from ICE"

and how it relates to carbon fibre in automobile construction.

voluntaryist - "If there was any truth to GM's long standing commitment to innovation then GM would not be dying".....I can't speak to living or dying, but to innovation..... who can deny that the Volt is not the most innovative mass production vehicle on the road today.....AND.....substituting carbon fiber for steel has to qualify as a MAJOR innovation.

It's stronger, lighter and will not rust.

Both Nissan and Audi are working on batteries that re-charge safely in 3 to 5 minutes and last for a long, long, long time. Put those in a car made of carbon fiber and drive it for 20 years without it rusting away. Think taxi's, delivery vans, a school or transit bus, long and short haul trucking..... the list goes on. I would pay more for a vehicle I could drive and own for 10 to 15 years then pass on to my grandchildren for their first car. Cars are more expensive and need to last longer to make economic sense.

There is not enough room to continue......but there is LOTS more.

Xander66
17th December, 2011 @ 01:12 am PST

Basalt fibers (from volcanic rock) have better impact than carbon fiber and is way less expensive. Basalt looks like carbon when wet-does NOT conduct electricity and the non-respirable fibers are safer even in the factory than fiberglass-but way stronger.

Basalt-mesh-fiber.com We would love auto makers to give it a try!

zekegri
20th December, 2011 @ 07:52 am PST
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