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June 25, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Gary Lownsdale has devoted five decades to “C and CF”

Plasan(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series on Gary Lownsdale who has been involved in carbon fiber and composites for five decades.) 

Gary Lownsdale has spent the better part of five decades focused on two passions – “C and CF.” The “C” stands for cars and the “CF” is carbon fiber.

If you doubt his passion for cars, you need to visit his 17,000 square foot building in Greenback where he stores 24 mostly English sports cars, but with a few U.S. muscle cars thrown-in for good measure.

Today, Lownsdale works for Plasan Carbon Composites, an Israeli-owned company whose U.S. subsidiary specializes in carbon composite components for the automotive sector.  In that role, he is heavily involved in the Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Consortium where Plasan and nearly 50 other companies are focused on driving down the cost of carbon fiber composites so that they can be used in mass market vehicles.

I first met Lownsdale nearly 15 years ago when he was helping the late Fred Forster, then President of the Blount Chamber of Commerce, with an automotive alliance that involved an economic development group from Sunderland, England.

Over the ensuing years, ours paths continued to intersect on a variety of topics – from nanotechnology to composites for automobiles. We recently sat down for a discussion about Lownsdale’s lifetime connected to the transportation sector.

“I’ve worked for all three car companies,” Lownsdale said of the Detroit 3. He joined the old Chrysler in 1965, moved to Ford in 1971, and finally General Motors where he eventually served as Chief Engineer for the Saturn brand.

During his Saturn years, Lownsdale had two offices from which he oversaw product engineering (Warren, MI) and manufacturing engineering (Spring Hill, TN).

“I first started working on carbon fiber in the 1960s,” he said, citing a spoiler for the Dodge Charger Daytona and drive shafts for Ford. Lownsdale even spent a few years with Hercules Corporation, where he focused on transferring unclassified technologies, including carbon fiber, into the automotive sector.

While he maintained an office in Spring Hill during his Saturn days, Lownsdale and his family called Michigan home. That changed in 1995 when he took early retirement and moved to Tellico Village.

The new Tennessee resident accepted a three-year assignment to serve as the turnaround Chief Executive Officer for MasterCraft Boat Company. “It is now a thriving, private business,” he notes proudly.

With that assignment behind him, Lownsdale was “looking for something to do,” and selected being a consultant in two areas – carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes.

About five years ago, the consultant accepted a full-time job as Chief Technology Officer for Plasan, a division of an Israeli-based defense conglomerate named Plasan Sasa Ltd. The latter had purchased the assets of the Automotive Division of Vermont Composites Industries and formed Plasan USA, Inc. in 2006. The name was changed to Plasan Carbon Composites two years later to emphasize the company’s dedicated focus on the automotive industry.

This was about the time that Lownsdale joined Plasan. We’ll review his key role there in the second article in this series.