Toray, Daimler establish automotive joint venture

The partners plan to start supplying mass-produced CFRP parts using Short Cycle resin transfer molding (RTM), a CFRP molding process technology developed by Toray for Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles to be launched in 2012.

Toray Industries Inc. (Tokyo, Japan) and German automobile manufacturer Daimler AG (Stuttgart, Germany) announced in late January that the companies have agreed to establish a joint venture based in Esslingen, Germany. The new entity will manufacture and market carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) automobile parts.
The two companies signed a joint development agreement in March 2010 in which Toray agreed to develop carbon fiber intermediate materials for CFRP. The company has been working on design and molding processes. For its part, Daimler is designing parts and developing technologies for joining the molded parts.

Daimler will use a molding technology developed by Toray, called Short Cycle resin transfer molding (RTM), for mass production of CFRP parts. The parts will be integrated into Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles to be launched in 2012. The agreement bears similarities to the decision in late 2009 by another Germany-based luxury automaker, BMW (Munich, Germany), to form a joint venture with SGL Group (Wiesbaden, Germany) to manufacture carbon fiber for the passenger cell of BMW’s all-electric Megacity Vehicle, a forthcoming urban commuter car. The joint venture, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers GmbH, recently broke ground in Moses Lake, Wash., for a carbon fiber plant that will produce 3,000 tons of fiber per year for the program.

The auto industry has become a large and important target for Toray, the world’s largest carbon fiber manufacturer. In June 2008, the company established the Automotive Center (AMC), a development base for automotive applications. The following April, Toray opened its Advanced Composites Center (ACC) for developing technology and applications for CFRP products. The centers serve as the core entities of the A&A (Automotive & Aircraft) Center in Nagoya, Japan, Toray’s technology development center for automotive and aircraft applications. Daimler wants to reduce the body-in-white weight of its vehicles by up to 10 percent compared to the preceding model for all Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Also in late January, Toray announced the creation of Toray Advanced Materials Korea Inc. (TAK, Seoul, South Korea) and the construction of a plant for mass production of carbon fiber in South Korea. The plant will be constructed at TAK’s Gumi Plant No. 3 (Gumi-si Gyeongsangbuk-do), with an investment of approximately 63 billion won (¥5 billion/$60.5 million USD). Construction of the plant, which will have an annual production capacity of 2,200 tons, is expected to start in early 2011. Operations will begin in January 2013. The facility will produce standard-modulus carbon fiber.

In other Toray news, the company announced that it will resume suspended expansion work at its carbon fiber production facility, Ehime Plant (Masaki-cho, Ehime Prefecture, Japan), for small-tow carbon fibers (3K and 6K). Halted when the recent recession hit, the expansion will add 1,000 tons of capacity to the facility. Toray aims to begin operations at the facility in September 2012. When the Ehime Plant begins production, the Toray Group’s total annual carbon fiber production capacity will increase to 18,900 tons, with the Ehime Plant accounting for 8,300 tons.