General Motors Co. drew attention at the start of March when it announced the option for a carbon fiber pickup bed on the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali, a first for the auto industry.
But the application of carbon fiber on the pickup truck was a seven-years-in-the-making project that called on the expertise of engineers at GM and leadership at Japanese materials firm Teijin Ltd., and supported by Continental Structural Plastics.
The Detroit automaker touted in a March 1 news release that the carbon fiber bed — called CarbonPro — marks the first time any automaker has used carbon fiber in a truck bed.
Since 2011, the automaker has worked with Teijin as a supplier of the chopped thermoplastic carbon fiber used on the truck. It has been a work-in-progress relationship for research and development of the material, which has seen "a long path and a long validation" for the application on the Sierra Denali, according to GM's Mark Voss.
"The thermoplastic material allows us to recycle any scrap that's [left] from the process. In fact, we have two parts in the pickup box on the next-gen Sierra that are made from 100 percent recycled material that's generated as scrap through this manufacturing process," he said during a March 7 phone interview.
Voss is the engineering group manager for advanced composites and pickup boxes — a professional title he said he was unable to use until the March 1 reveal of the next-gen Sierra Denali and SLT.
"If you look at the other carbon fiber usages, even globally, they're all traditional thermoset composites," he said. "This is breaking the paradigm not just for pickup boxes on the new Sierra; it's actually breaking some paradigms around carbon fiber material systems themselves."