GM-Supplier Teijin Targets Mass-Produced Carbon-Fiber Cars

A quarter of all “eco cars” will use carbon fiber within six years as automakers ranging from General Motors Co. to Toyota Motor Corp. turn to lighter materials to improve fuel economy, a Japanese supplier says.

Osaka-based Teijin Ltd., provider of carbon fiber to Airbus Group NV’s A380 superjumbo, forecasts industry sales of carbon fiber cars will reach 3 million units by 2020 as it works with Detroit-based GM to develop the material for mass production, according to a Nov. 7 statement.

Carbon fiber -- about 10 times stronger and 75 percent lighter than steel -- has so far been used only in sports cars and luxury vehicles such as Toyota’s Lexus LFA and Volkswagen AG’s Lamborghini. Of the 100 million vehicles to be produced annually by 2020, about 12 million will be eco cars such as electronic vehicles and hybrids, according to the Teijin statement.

Teijin aims to take the lead after GM approved its new technology to cut molding time and costs to enable mass production for passenger vehicles, Takashi Yoshino, head of Teijin’s carbon fiber and composite business, said last week.

“Rather than just for luxury and sports cars, we will seek to establish an overwhelming position in the general-use car market,” Yoshino said.

The company is studying the feasibility of building a new factory in the U.S. to produce carbon fiber, and plans to construct another facility in North America to produces parts made with the material, he said.

Reducing Weight

Carbon fiber “is part of GM’s lightweighting strategy,” spokesman Klaus-Peter Martin said in an e-mailed response to questions. “There is not a single solution to vehicle light-weighting, but the benefits to customers are many, including better fuel economy and better dynamic performance.”

He declined to comment on whether the automobile company’s projections match Teijin’s.

Carbon fiber producers and steel and aluminum suppliers are in a race to attract global carmakers. Munich-based Bayerische Motoren Werke AG this year rolled out the i8, a plug-in hybrid sports car built with a carbon fiber frame. Ford Motor Co.’s chief executive officer has said the automaker will eventually use aluminum across its entire model lineup.

The carbon fiber market is set to expand at an annual rate of more than 15 percent by 2020 with cars leading the way, according to presentation documents from Teijin. The Japanese company currently holds 20 percent of the market, second after Toray Industries Inc.

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