It took BMW Group 10 years to bring carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics technology from its research labs to mass production in the i3 electric car, but some Chinese car companies are looking for a way to shorten that laborious process.
About 80 representatives from Chinese auto makers, their plastics suppliers and universities met April 22 on the sidelines of the Chinaplas trade fair, trying to kick-start more collaboration with CFRP and bring in more government funding.
China has two big draws for CFRP companies — it's the world's biggest car market and it has off-the-charts air pollution in its big cities.
Pressure is growing to find ways to cut emissions from vehicles, including by making them lighter, said Du Cao, vice president of global research and development for Chinese car maker Chang'An Automobile Group Co. Ltd. and chairman of the industry group that organized the meeting.
Two commitments emerged from the forum, organized by the International Green Auto Materials Lightweight Technology Alliance, which is part of the Shanghai-based Sino-European Union Chemical Manufacturers Association.
One was to build stronger vertical links down the supply chain, better connecting materials makers to plastics processors and car makers. The second was stronger horizontal links between Chinese car makers.
The challenge is that the industry has just started its CFRP work. The group has been examining other lightweight technologies for several years, but the April 22 discussion was its first hard look at CFRP, and as a result, some participants said it was hard to determine where to focus their energies.
“This is the first time we are touching things we never discussed, like how to do it, how to use carbon fiber plastics,” Cao said. “Of course it's messy, right. Everyone has all kinds of challenges and problems.”
“But that's good news,” he said. “At least we know each other and we get together and we would like to know more the efficient way to solve the problem.”
Some global materials companies heavily involved in CFRP in other countries said it is hard to figure out what the Chinese industry wants.