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Prodrive secures GBP10m contracts for automotive carbon parts

10 March 2011

Three manufacturers of luxury and sports cars have commissioned Prodrive’s specialist manufacturing division to supply carbon composite parts for 5,000 vehicles over six years, in contracts worth more than £10m. The two manufacturers of luxury cars are using carbon components for the exterior of their cars for the first time, having previously only used carbon for decorative interior trim.

These parts will range in size from door mirrors and bumper inserts to rear diffusers and sill extensions and all will be unpainted, presenting the composite’s weave as the finished, visual surface.

For the sports car manufacturer, Prodrive will manufacture a full carbon interior trim, as well as major external sub-assemblies.

“These are the largest ever contracts for our composites division, both in terms of volume and value, and mark a significant step by vehicle manufacturers towards the increased use of carbon fibre for exterior applications,” says Prodrive’s composites manager Ian Handscombe. “These and other major contracts for motorsport and aerospace businesses will see us double our turnover in 2011.”

Handscombe feels there are two factors behind the move towards external composite parts by luxury car manufacturers: “First economic; car manufacturers now produce niche models profitably in volumes of a few hundred to a few thousand – ideal numbers for us. Second technical; we use a specially-developed lacquer that offers the long-term resistance to stone chipping required by luxury road vehicles, even in lower body applications.”

As visible exterior parts, the composites must combine the necessary robustness with an exceptional surface finish, including the consistency and direction of weave in the fabric. “The final appearance is only as good as the mould quality and the care used in the original lay-up,” says Handscombe. “There’s no hiding anything under a layer of paint. Our track record with both lacquered and unlacquered finishes has given customers the confidence that we can deliver the standards required.”

With many of the cars destined for hot countries, particular emphasis is being placed on exhaustive environmental testing to ensure durability in extreme climates.  Prodrive is also helping each client to develop new supplier quality standards for composites, against which to benchmark future production quality levels.

The new orders mean a significant increase in manufacturing volume for Prodrive. In preparation, the company has developed its production processes to facilitate simultaneous working by multiple operators. This will increase throughput while maintaining traditional standards of craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Handscombe concludes: “These contracts give us an opportunity to bring moulded composites manufacture into a higher volume environment and to demonstrate that with rigorous design and materials selection, the materials are suitable for use in luxury cars, even in vulnerable areas.”

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