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Saint-Gobain charges ahead in electric auto industry

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GARDEN GROVE, Calif.—Saint-Gobain S.A. said the electric car segment is one of the youngest and fasting growing in the automotive industry, and it will continue to invest in the development of sealing solutions for electric vehicle technology.

The firm cited initiatives around the globe to achieve 20 million electric cars on the road by 2020.

"We see the volumes increasing, especially in the last quarter of last year," said Peter Werger, market manager, automotive and industrial. "We see them increasing even more in the next two or three years."

Werger said the firm mostly will be making investments within its research and development side to further its existing lines and continue to provide new solutions to the industry.

Saint-Gobain has been involved with developing seals for electric cars since the market's genesis about 10 years ago.

The firm recently purchased LS Kunststofftechnologie GmbH, which Werger said will help strengthen the group's strategy of strengthening its positions in high-performance and co-developed solutions—like those found in electric cars.

LS is a leading supplier in transmissions. Werger said it supplies specialized ceiling rings for transmissions and clutches. It also provides Saint-Gobain a second facility for injection molding to complement its existing facility in La Rioja, Spain.

Saint-Gobain would not release financial details of the transaction, which was finalized on Dec. 4, 2013. All of the employees of LS will be integrated into Saint-Gobain.

Requirements of electric cars are different from standard vehicles. Original equipment manufacturers are interested in lightweight components, Werger said. They also require parts that have very low frictions because this is directly linked to energy loss.

Since 2008, advances in battery and power management technologies, concerns about increasing oil prices and the need to reduce gas emissions are reasons why the industry is focusing heavily on electric car development, according to Saint-Gobain.

Werger said batteries today have more than double the range than they did 10 years ago, but said making the electric car a viable option for longer trips is still a ways away.

"Right now the targeted people are people who travel from their home to their work in relatively small distances," Werger said. "They only have to charge their car every two or three days. Once they have a long-range battery, it will certainly change the industry."

Saint-Gobain highlighted three products designed for electric cars. The firm's OmniLip product line of rotary lip seals are used in cooling differential module for the electric systems. The company said cooling the electrical systems is one of the most critical challenges engineers face and is essential for safe operation.

Saint-Gobain's OmniShield spring technology seals are used to help charge the car's batteries. The product line is designed for latching and locking in addition to shielding the kind of specialized battery connectors found in electric cars.

The firm also provides material solutions such as its Meldin HT polymer components for the brake system. Co-developed with one of the automotive industry's leading manufacturers, the product line is a series of high-tech polymer components used in the brake system of the Renault ZOE.

Saint-Gobain operates in 64 countries with nearly 193,000 employees and 2012 sales of approximately $58.3 billion.