DOUGLAS A. BOLDUC

BMW indirectly controls its carbon fiber partner

Douglas A. Bolduc is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.Douglas A. Bolduc is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.
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BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer was correct when he said this week that BMW doesn't need a bigger stake in SGL. What he didn't say is the reason why: The automaker already indirectly controls its carbon fiber-producing partner.

SGL Carbon SE's largest individual shareholder is Susanne Klatten's investment company SKion GmbH, which has a stake of about 28 percent in the supplier, according to SGL's 2012 annual report.

Klatten is part of the Quandt family, which has a 46.7 percent stake in BMW AG.

Klatten, who is considered to be Germany's richest woman with a Forbes-estimated net worth of $14.3 billion, also has been an SGL supervisory board member since 2009, which was when SKion first invested in the supplier. She was appointed SGL's supervisory board chairman on April 30.

BMW is SGL's second-largest individual shareholder with a stake of 18.4 percent.

Given Klatten's strong ties to BMW and her powerful position as both a major investor and supervisory board chief at SGL, it's fair to say that the automaker really has a stake of more than 46 percent in the supplier.

Why have BMW and Klatten invested so much in a SGL? It is the only European maker of the fibers that go into ultra-lightweight but very durable carbon reinforced plastics like those used in the BMW i3 electric car and i8 plug-in hybrid.

Also, the supplier was the subject of a public battle between BMW and Volkswagen Group in 2011. It was then that BMW went from having a 5 percent stake to a 15.7 percent holding in SGL. A BMW spokeswoman said today that during 2012 the stake increased to 18.4 percent, even though SGL's figures say BMW's share is still 15.7 percent.

Also in 2011, Klatten's SKion increased its stake to its current total, about 28 percent, from about 22 percent.

Today, VW has a 9.98 percent share, according to SGL data.

Carbon fiber is 30 percent lighter than aluminum and 50 percent lighter than steel, offering carmakers a way to help cut vehicle weight and CO2 emissions.

That is particularly crucial at automakers such as BMW, which make large, powerful vehicles. To help offset the CO2 produced by those models BMW create its i subbrand, which is responsible for the i3 and the i8.

SGL and BMW have two joint ventures. The partners produce carbon fibers at a U.S. factory in Moses Lake, Washington, and those fibers are converted into fabrics at the second joint venture facility in Wackersdorf, Germany.

BMW considered carbon fiber to be crucial to its future. Board member for sales and marketing Ian Robertson recently told Automotive News Europe: "We will be a major player in the carbon fiber technology field ... We believe carbon fiber has a role to play in mainstream products. We are developing things here that will also wash into the core brand."

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