An Israeli carbon-fiber molding company is turning its expertise in making military armor for trucks toward a different kind of muscle car.
Plasan Sasa Ltd. purchased the automotive unit of Vermont Composites Inc., the maker of carbon-fiber fenders for General Motors Corp.'s Z06 Corvette, and plans to use the Bennington, Vt., company - now renamed Plasan USA - to support manufacturing of both sports cars and armored products.
``For us, it's a natural expansion,'' said Kobi Rasner, corporate business development director for Plasan Sasa of Kibbutz Sasa, Israel, during an April 16 interview at the Society of Automotive Engineers' 2007 World Congress in Detroit.
Plasan Sasa opened in 1985, making carbon-fiber composite armor for military vehicles, airplanes and helicopters, along with personal body armor. Its sales have grown substantially in recent years, climbing from $7.4 million in 2000 to $145 million in 2005 - with 70 percent of the growth coming from customers in North America and Europe.
Not only does the Vermont location give the firm a manufacturing base in the U.S. and better access to its customers in America, Rasner said, but it also gives Plasan a foothold into a new business area the company expects is about to grow - carbon-fiber auto parts.
``We're a very entrepreneurial company, and want to be there when an innovative concept comes along,'' he said. ``We think [carbon fiber in the] auto industry is about to take off.''
GM's Z06 version of the Corvette shows it is possible to create a mainstream sports car using carbon fiber that is also within reach of more consumers, he said.
While the car's sticker price starts at more than $65,000, it is more affordable than the ``super cars'' that have been more typical for carbon-fiber usage in the past. Those cars cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
GM first put carbon fiber on the hood for a commemorative edition of the Corvette Z06 in 2004, then rolled out the 2006 version of the Z06 with carbon- fiber front fenders, front wheel wells and the passenger compartment floor.
Vermont Composites, which specializes in carbon fiber for the medical industry, was tapped to make the fenders. Production continued there, though the company wanted to focus on its primary customers, said Robert Schudlich, account manager for Plasan USA.
The sale to Plasan Sasa, completed in September for an undisclosed amount, gave the Israeli company its foothold in the auto industry and in North America, while allowing Burlington, Vt.-based Vermont Composites to focus on its core industry.
Now Plasan is busy using the Corvette as an example to help drive future sales for carbon fiber in the auto industry, while also introducing the name to a new set of customers, Schundlich said.