DETROIT -- General Motors is teaming up with a major carbon-fiber supplier to develop new types of the strong, lightweight composite for future GM vehicles, including potentially high-volume models sold globally.
GM said today it is partnering with Teijin Ltd. of Japan, which has developed a technology that it says dramatically reduces the time it takes to process carbon-fiber material. The faster cycle time could open the door to the use of carbon fiber in high-volume vehicles, GM says.
Carbon fiber is considerably stronger and lighter than steel and aluminum, but it's more expensive, mostly because of a long, labor-intensive production process. As a result, the composite is only used for select parts in low-volume vehicles, such as the fenders on the Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
"Our relationship with Teijin provides the opportunity to revolutionize the way carbon fiber is used in the automotive industry," GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky said in a statement. "This technology holds the potential to be an industry game changer and demonstrates GM's long-standing commitment to innovation."
GM says Teijin's technology has the potential to mass produce carbon-fiber composites using thermoplastic material that can be molded in less than one minute, vs. mold times of 10 minutes or more for traditional carbon fiber, which is made using a material called thermoset.
"It's easier to handle and quicker to mold," Jim Hentschel, GM's executive director for body and exterior, said in an interview. "That's what allows us to be able to introduce this technology into more mainstream, high-volume vehicles."
Hentschel said the pact will allow Teijin to advance development of the technology while working with GM on integrating the material into vehicles. He wouldn't predict when it might be used in GM vehicles.
The companies didn't disclose financial details of the deal but said it does not involve an exchange of equity. Teijin will open a technical center in the northern United States to do its work with GM, the companies said, but they didn't specify a location.
Automakers are seeking to cut vehicle weight as a way to improve fuel economy as they face increasingly stringent emissions and fuel-economy standards.
GM is expected to expand the use of carbon fiber in the next-generation Chevrolet Corvette, which is expected to debut for the 2014 model year.
BMW AG has said it plans to begin high-volume production of carbon-fiber parts by 2013, which likely would make it the first automaker to expand use of the material beyond low-volume models. Its i3 electric car, which debuts in 2013, will have a carbon-fiber shell.