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Global car-makers look to Geelong wheel supplier
Aussie firm Carbon Revolution expands as demand ramps up for carbon-fibre wheels
10 Sep 2014
By IAN PORTER
A PROMINENT global car-maker is preparing to announce plans to fit a new high-performance vehicle with one-piece carbon-fibre wheels made in Geelong, with the sportscar set to be unveiled in the not-too-distant future.
Still under wraps, the vehicle will be the first production car to use wheels made by Carbon Revolution at a new plant currently under construction at Deakin University in the Geelong suburb of Waurn Ponds.
In an interview with GoAuto, Carbon Revolution chief executive Jake Dingle said he was unable to name the manufacturer, but that the new vehicle was coming soon and represented a breakthrough for the Australian supplier.
He also revealed that as many as five other contracts with major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were “in the final stages” of being signed.
“We are very well progressed with our first major OEM program,” Mr Dingle said.
“You’ll see it in the next few months.
“It’ll be the launch of an exciting new high-performance vehicle that our wheels will be on.”
Mr Dingle declined to say how many wheels would be supplied under the contract, except that it would be “in the thousands”.
The mystery global car-maker is one of 12 that Carbon Revolution is working with, and Carbon Revolution directors are confident these collaborations will lead to more contracts for the new plant.
“This is a 50,000-parts-a-year facility,” Mr Dingle said.
“We imagine that will be completely filled with a number of low-volume OEM programs and aftermarket volumes as well.”
The factory will be completed early in 2015 and will include the latest Carbon Revolution advances in mechanisation and automation in the production process.
It is being funded by a $5 million grant from the Geelong Region Innovation and Investment Fund and with money derived from a share issue to Swiss company Ronal.
Ronal is Europe’s biggest maker of aluminium wheels and is believed to have taken a 30 per cent in Carbon Revolution in a $15 million deal that valued the company at $50 million.
He said the company had already agreed with Deakin University to double the size of the plant now being built on the Waurn Ponds campus.
Mr Dingle said other car-makers were also well down the evaluation path of adopting Carbon Revolution wheels and that an agreement had been struck with Deakin University to expand its new production facility as required.
“We think we can get to around 250,000 wheels a year here, although it will depend on a number of factors,” he said.
“There are a dozen OEMs around the world, in all geographies – Europe, UK, America and Asia – who have purchased our wheels to do validation work on them.
And that is a very clear lead indicator of the intention to fit our wheels to a production model.
“We have been incredibly successful in generating interest in, and demand for, the technology. So far we have the one signed program that is going to start full production next year.
“There are a handful of others where we are in the final stages of getting a program signed up.”
Apart from the deals with OEMs, Carbon Revolution has been marketing the unique one-piece carbon-fibre wheels in the aftermarket, directing them at owners of high-end sportscars looking for the latest technology and who are able to pay around $15,000 for a set of four.
Ronal distributes the wheels in the European aftermarket.
Those wheels are made in Carbon Revolution’s current plant, which grew out of the original R&D centre.
Mr Dingle said the plan was to reduce the cost of one-piece carbon-fibre wheels so that, ultimately, they could be considered for use on more cost-sensitive high-volume models, where weight reduction and emissions reduction are the primary concerns.
Much of the work being done now is centred on automating the various stages of the production process to drive cost out and open up higher-volume markets.
The next stage will be to bring costs down so that Carbon Revolution wheels can match forged aluminium wheels for cost.
“Certainly, premium forged aluminium wheels are absolutely a target and then, beyond that, it depends on where we get to with our raw material supply, where we get to with our automation and simplicity of design,” Mr Dingle said.
Mr Dingle believes it will be possible to bring costs down to a level where they will be able to compete with cast aluminium wheels.
He said Carbon Revolution was not actively targeting the hypercars like the Bugatti Veyron as the volumes were too small.
“We’re targeting the sports end, the premium end of the big OEMs because we know we will then have a chance to trickle down the model range, where volumes are higher.”
He said the OEMs like the idea because wheels are a lucrative part of the options list when people are buying a new car.
“Look at how many M series wheels you see on BMWs versus how many actual M series cars there are out there,” he said.
“So there is a huge opportunity to option these wheels. There’s a lot of margin to be made if you are an OEM selling your own internal aftermarket options.
That’s not lost on them.
“Wheels are typically a very high take-rate option. They see this as being a real opportunity.
“Look at carbon ceramic brakes. When they were first introduced in the early 2000s, they were optioned up for tens of thousands of dollars. And they offer far less in terms of aesthetics than our carbon fibre wheels.”
The company has also been buoyed by support from high-profile advocates, such as American media personality and car enthusiast Jay Leno, who recently tested the Carbon Revolution CR9 wheel (http://www.nbc.com/jay-lenos-garage).
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