Carbon fiber is seen by many in the auto industry as one of the most effective ways of reducing vehicle weight and thus improving fuel economy and emissions levels, but the relative expense of the material means that it’s still reserved for only a handful of high-end production cars.

BMW has effectively used carbon fiber roofs for its M cars to help lower their center of gravity, and Nissan and General Motors have used the composite material to help save weight in the GT-R and ZR1 supercars.

For most automakers, however, mainstream carbon fiber use is still several years away but a number of firms, including Japanese carbon-specialists Toray, are working closely with the auto industry to help bring down the cost of the lightweight stuff.

In fact, auto giant Daimler has announced this week that it is forming a joint venture with Toray to speed the development and manufacture of lightweight carbon fiber components for cars. The new joint venture will be divided between Toray and Daimler, which will hold 50.1 percent and 44.9 percent of the shares, respectively, and the remaining 5.0 percent going to other investors.

It will be established in March and one of the first cars to benefit from the new carbon fiber components will be the next-generation Mercedes-Benz SL-Class due next year.

Interestingly, this will be the first time that Toray, the world’s biggest supplier of carbon fiber with a 34 percent global market share, will be producing components for cars. The company has previously supplied raw carbon fiber yarn to other automakers, however.

[Reuters]