ATLANTA — A factory in Austria soon will begin producing automotive wheels from a hybrid of carbon fiber composites and aluminum, European composites entrepreneur Karl Wagner said at the JEC Americas trade show.
When the Salzburg wheel factory begins operating in July, Mubea Carbo Tech GmbH will be able to build 20,000 of the wheels a year. The wheels have a carbon-fiber reinforced outer rim, the tire fits onto. The more-visible portion, known as the center star, is aluminum.
“We started with the development of this wheel about four years ago,” Wagner said in a technical session on automotive composites held May 14 at JEC Americas in Atlanta. Mubea Carbo Tech and European car makers have tested the wheels, and they meet automotive standards, he said.
Wagner said German automakers will begin using the wheels on some 2016 models. The hybrid wheels are made by a fully automated resin transfer molding process.
About two years ago, the company also began developing all-carbon-fiber-reinforced wheels, with no aluminum, Wagner said. One key technical challenge is the connection holes where the wheel bolts onto the vehicle's hub.
Using composites for car wheels cuts weight. It also reduces the rotation mass of the wheel, so it has quicker acceleration and, when braking, a shorter stopping distance, Wagner said. A fully composite wheel is 30 percent lighter than an all-aluminum one, he added.
Wagner founded Carbo Tech Composites GmbH in 1993. In 2011, he sold a majority of the business to automotive supplier Mubea Group. On May 5 — a week before the JEC conference — Mubea announced it was buying Wagner's remaining shares and would take 100 percent ownership of Carbo Tech.
Wagner said he is no longer the CEO, but he will remain at Mubea Carbo Tech.
Carbo Tech Composites gained a reputation in motor sports, such as Formula One cars. Since it started, the company has made about 5,000, one-piece monocoque chassis of carbon fiber composite, he said. The firm also makes other car body parts, as well as industrial components.
Now, wheels account about 65 percent of total sales, Wagner said.