VW takes stake in BMW’s carbon fibre partner
By Daniel Schaefer in Geneva
Published: March 1 2011 10:13 | Last updated: March 1 2011 23:40
Volkswagen has taken a minority stake in a carbon-fibre company that has a partnership with BMW, highlighting how such lightweight materials are becoming a battleground for Germany’s carmakers.
Europe’s largest carmaker by sales announced at the Geneva motor show that it had bought an 8.18 per cent stake in SGL Carbon, the German maker of carbon products.
The €140m ($193m) move will be closely watched by BMW and by Susanne Klatten, SGL’s main shareholder whose family is also the premium carmaker’s anchor investor.
Ferdinand Piëch, VW’s chairman, said on the sidelines of the motor show that the stakebuilding would allow the group to gain greater access to lightweight materials without harming BMW.
He said VW, which aims to raise its stake to a maximum of 10 per cent, had informed the premium carmaker and Ms Klatten in advance about its interest in the group.
“BMW has always been a nice competitor for our 10 little brands ... We do not hurt each other so we can well share ownership at SGL,” Mr Piëch said.
However, his words received a cool reception from Skion, Ms Klatten’s investment holding.
Skion said it was watching VW’s move with “vigilance”, adding that it could quickly raise its 22.5 per cent stake to a blocking minority if necessary.
Norbert Reithofer, BMW’s chief executive, denied that VW had informed him in advance. While he refused to comment on the implications of the deal, he said: “We have not been asked by VW if we like this or not.”
SGL two years ago formed a joint venture with the world’s largest premium carmaker by sales for the mass manufacturing of carbon fibres for electric cars.
While carbon fibre is still mainly used in the aerospace industry and for high-end sports and racing cars, it is moving to mass-market premium car producers, mainly because of the need to save weight in electric and hybrid cars.
BMW plans to use carbon-fibre passenger cells for its new BMW i electric sub-brand, which plans to launch a plug-in hybrid model in 2013.
Both Daimler and Audi, the German premium carmakers, have this year formed partnerships with carbon-fibre specialists.
Audi, owned by VW, recently announced a co-operation deal with German engineering conglomerate Voith to build lightweight materials.
Voith also owns a 5 per cent stake in SGL.
Bankers said SGL had attracted interest recently from a series of financial and industrial investors betting that the electrification in the car industry would turn carbon fibre into a mass-manufacturing material.
“An awful lot of financial investors and industrial groups outside the car sector have come to me and said they were interested in taking a stake in SGL in the past few months,” one banker said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.