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Instant Analysis: Corning's Gorilla Glass Coming to Cars

By Rich Duprey – Dec 16, 2015 at 11:22AM

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The specialty glass has trapped the materials company in the smartphone market, and Corning is looking for a new growth vehicle.

What happened?
Corning (GLW 1.32%) announced that its high-strength specialty Gorilla Glass will now be used in cars, making its first appearance in Ford's (F 2.52%) 2017 GT sports car on both the front windshield and back window.

Because it is lighter than standard windshield safety glass, it will help carmakers save on vehicle weight, which will help them improve vehicle gas mileage. But the shatter-resistant glass comes at a cost: It's more expensive than regular glass, meaning it likely won't make it to consumer-class cars anytime soon.


Does it matter?
Until now, Gorilla Glass has most often been associated with smartphones and notebook computers -- some 4 billion devices use the product -- but growth has been difficult in recent years, and even with advances like Gorilla Glass 4, which Corning describes as delivering "the highest damage resistance performance versus all alternative compositions," it's found it hard to make gains. Specialty materials segment revenues fell 12% in the third quarter despite increases in Gorilla Glass volumes. Breaking out of the smartphone market could provide Corning with a new opportunity for growth, but it's not likely to happen soon, at least not with cars.

Although its use in the windshields of Ford's sports car will help it reduce vehicle weight by as much as 12 pounds, some 32% lighter than it otherwise would have been, it will add about $2 to $4 per pound to the vehicle's cost. The Ford GT comes with a $400,000 price tag, and with only 250 being made, can easily absorb the added cost, but a consumer-grade model will find the premium the specialty glass will add more problematic.

There is something of a safety issue, too, in that first responders might not be able to break the windows to gain access to occupants in the car, but Corning and Ford note the side windows will remain standard safety glass and emergency personnel can still use hydraulic rescue cutters like Jaws of Life to gain entry.

Bringing Gorilla Glass to a high-end vehicle is a smart way to introduce it to the industry, and may help Corning determine both whether there's a viable market for it that can help the specialty-materials maker break free from the smartphone corner it's painted itself into and whether it can regain sales growth momentum.

Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Corning and Ford. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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