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GM, Ford turn to carbon wheel ‘revolution’

Carbon watch: General Motors is planning to roll out carbon-fibre wheels as optional equipment on its performance cars, such as the Cadillac ATS-V Coupe pictured here.

Global car-maker interest rising as Geelong supplier speeds production, cuts costs

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General News logo24 May 2016

DEMAND for carbon-fibre wheels produced by Geelong-based Carbon Revolution is soaring, with General Motors following Ford’s lead in aiming to fit the world-leading rims to key high-performance models.

At the same time, the burgeoning Australian wheel company is pressing ahead with developments on various fronts, including ramping up production, pushing hard into the US performance vehicle aftermarket, developing new resins and fibres and securing supply contracts with global car-makers.

And the company is planning to invest heavily to keep up with demand.

“When you are doing what we are doing, it requires significant capital, if we are to stay ahead,” Carbon Revolution chief executive Jake Dingle said in an interview with GoAuto.

Mr Dingle was speaking after Ford Motor Company last week revealed that it had signed a second contract with Carbon Revolution, this time to secure wheels for the road-going version of the low-volume, high-profile Ford GT supercar.

Carbon Revolution’s original Ford contract was for the supply of wheels to Ford’ s highest-specification Mustang, the Shelby GT350R, which has received rave reviews in the US.

News of the GT contract was followed quickly by reports that GM was considering fitting Carbon Revolution wheels to one – or, more likely, several – of its high-performance vehicles.

A report on US website Autoblog last week quoted GM polymer systems technical fellow William Rodgers saying GM was planning to offer carbon-fibre wheels as optional extras. The report said it was likely GM would use Carbon Revolution wheels when it does.

Mr Rodgers said Cadillac V-series models such as the ATS-V and CTS-V would be among the first to list the carbon-fibre wheels as options.

Other high-performance cars such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette are also likely contenders.

Mr Dingle could not confirm whether Carbon Revolution was talking to GM about a wheel contract.

“We don’t know anything about that. We haven’t said anything ourselves about it,” he told GoAuto.

“What I would say is there is a very broad range of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) around the world that have had access to the technology over the past few years and have been successfully validating it. This typically leads to program discussions and award.

“That’s our strategy, to be a large-scale supplier to larger and larger programs to customers around the world in the automotive industry and the aerospace industry. Confidentiality prevents me from speaking about any customer.” Mr Dingle said that while the Ford GT contract would not fill the company’s factory, it was an important one for Carbon Revolution.

“It’s not a high-volume program, but it is a very important one. It is a very serious supercar,” he said.

“We all know the pedigree Ford has in that vehicle. It is certainly making a statement by bringing out a vehicle with that level of new technology on it. It’ s been a very important project for us to be on.” The company has been producing wheels for the Mustang Shelby GT350R and Mr Dingle said the program was going “extremely well”.

“You just have to look at the awards that car is winning. It won the Performance Car of the Year in the US last year. It beat all the Europeans and some American counterparts for that, including Porsches, Ferraris, the Corvette,” he said.

“That’s a huge thing. It has been very clearly and publically acknowledged as a game-changer from the Mustang point of view and that the wheels are a really big part of that.” Motor Trend magazine published a back-to-back track test with the GT350 and the GT350R in October last year and found the GT350R accelerated faster and managed higher cornering speeds, largely due to the carbon-fibre wheels, each of which is 8kg lighter than an equivalent aluminium wheel and has 40 per cent less rotational weight.

In a separate drive assessment of the GT350R, the magazine said: “Those lightweight wheels not only made the entire car feel lighter and more responsive everywhere, but they also clearly allow it to accelerate harder and stop shorter.

“Invest in carbon-fibre wheel companies. They’re going to be on everything soon.” Mr Dingle told GoAuto: “The global benchmark for sportscars is the Porsche GT3 and according to Ford this car is matching the GT3 around the track, and Ford don’t make statements like that that are not well backed up.

“You take that much weight out of the rotating unsprung mass and it’s going to do something remarkable for a vehicle.” Mr Dingle said the company’s other main project for 2016, expanding its share of the aftermarket for high performance wheels, was also tracking well.

“Carbon Revolution has now established a national dealer network of tuning shops in the US, shops that sell famous brands like Brembo, Recaro and others,” he said.

“We have wheels suitable for Porsche, BMW and other high performance brands and early indications are very good. It looks like we are establishing a very strong brand.”

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