A Japanese company that is the world’s largest maker of carbon fibers has bought 20 percent of the supplier that will be producing two carbon fiber body panels for the 2014 Corvette Stingray.
The move by Tokyo-based Toray Industries Inc., to buy a minority stake in Michigan-based Plasan is a bid to expand its carbon fiber composite material business globally in the automotive field.
The latest use of such carbon fiber material will be the hood and roof of the C7 Corvette to be produced in a new plant in Walker, Mich., by Plasan, which manufactures and distributes auto parts based on carbon fiber reinforced plastics.
“What it really shows is that this is gaining traction in North America,” said Jim Staargaard, president of Plasan. “There are a lot of development agreements going on, but we’re actually making parts and Toray is interested in that.”
Staargaard says it’s “important” to be involved in launching a new market and building a new market, calling it “cumbersome,” “a long process,” and “expensive.”
Plasan developed its own molding process for the Corvette, called Pressure Press, that can make the parts in a 17-minute cycle time, including curing. The Corvette with its estimated annual production run of 20,000 units will represent the biggest single production run for carbon fiber in North America.
“It takes years to establish what we’ve established, and right now is a good time to be in it,” Staargaard said.
Plasan is the only supplier of carbon fiber body panels for performance and luxury cars made by U.S. manufacturers and uses carbon fibers produced by Toray’s U.S. subsidiary to make its Pressure Press molding.
“Given the cost of carbon fiber, vertical integration makes sense because there is no existing customer base,” Staargaard said.
In a press release, Toray says its capital participation in Plasan will “ensure a distribution channel to U.S. automobile manufacturers and establish a manufacturing and development base for CFRP auto parts in North America, completing a comprehensive and strong supply chain covering from carbon fibers to intermediate base materials and molded components.”
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