BMW\’s Carbon Fiber Footprint

BMW Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber has been dubbed the material of the future for building vehicles. Whether it be planes or cars, the strength to weight ratio is almost unbeatable. Current market pricing of this high tech material has relegated it to ultra exclusive super cars, race cars and some high end sports cars- ///M models included. Pending legislation makes efficiency the utmost concern for future vehicles, reducing weight plays a significant role in increasing miles per gallon- and since all manufacturers and all cars will need to improve in this area, carbon fiber may finally become more mainstream.

Without this nudge from law makers carbon fiber may have remained exclusive to expensive cars into the foreseeable future due to the limited demand and inability to reach adequite economies of scale. Those factors just would not make it viable for the everyman ‘s mode of transport, thankfully that is all about to change.

BMW will launch the first installment of the “Mega City Vehicle ” under Project-i (as a sub brand believed to be iSetta) to help improve the overall miles per gallon fleet average and help the environment (something BMW has always been at the forefront of). This vehicle will signify a huge leap in terms of production, materials and drive line. BMW is now stating that in 2013 they will bring their first rendition of the MCV to market and usher in the age of electric powered, carbon fiber structured BMW products.

The Megacity Vehicle will be be the first mass produced vehicle to utilize significant quantities of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics (CFRP). The use of these high tech materials will substantially reduce its weight and thus improve the overall range of the electric vehicle. The MCV is just the tip of the future of BMW carbon fiber use in vehicles.

BMW recently announced that along with SGL Carbon Fiber SE they will build a state-of-the-art carbon fiber manufacturing plant in Moses Lake, WA. This new plant will be a key component in creating cost effective CFRP for the Mega City vehicle and other BMW group products. Multiple sources indicate, that once complete, this plant will be supplied raw polyacrylonitrile (PAN) produced by SGL and Mitshubishi Rayon in Japan and convert those polyacrylic fibers into the actual carbon fibers.

Those US produced fibers will then be processed into light weight carbon fiber fabrics at a second joint venture site in Wackersdorf, Germany. The fabrics can not be utilized in production vehicles until they are processed even further, this occurs at the BMW Group Plant Landshut, Germany. Landshut produces the CFRP parts and components made from these fabrics. The assembly of the Megacity Vehicle will finally take place at the BMW Group plant in Leipzig, Germany where the current 1 Series and the BMW X1 are being built.

BMW and SGL have only reported on how this new collaboration will yield materials for the MCV, but without taking a huge leap one can imagine the use of more carbon fiber in other vehicles. Would BMW invest hundreds of millions of dollars into factories to supply only one vehicle with carbon fiber? It is highly doubtful. Mercedez Benz recently announced a similar joint venture with Toray Industries to lighten up their 2012 SL a move BMW is likely to take into consideration.

Depending on the completion date of the new factory BMW could use additional carbon fiber in the 3 Series redesign slated for a late 2012 launch or wait until the 2013 refresh of the 1 Coupe and Convertible. The use of some carbon fiber for these vehicles would help ramp up production prior to building an entire vehicle of these materials. We are not sure at this point but BMW being the master of efficiency in production one can see the writing on the wall that Carbon Fiber is on its way to mainstream vehicles. BMW is paving the carbon fiber way- who needs aluminum when there is carbon fiber!

The one thing to note is the vast distance the carbon fiber must travel- It starts the journey in Japan, followed by a stop over in the US to finally be moved around Germany. This seems like a large distance to move raw materials to be cost effective, the one benefit is that it hedges currency fluctuations by using three separate economies. This keeps things diversified and hedges a bit but there is also a large possibility that BMW/SGL could sell the raw carbon fiber to other US based manufacturers- most notably Boeing to more easily reach economies of scale and further reduce the cost of the materials for their vehicles.

This is a very exciting time as the future is going on a diet, something we have all desired for the past half decade or so, now only if the American public could do the same thing!

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  • Lee L

    So, I’ve seen how carbon fiber parts are made for bicycles, boats, planes, and low production for cars and it is not quick or easy. They have to lay the sheets down in layers with the resin in a mold and then have to vacuum bag and heat it.

    How can this be scaled up to a mass production run for something that can produce more than a few parts per day per team of workers. Do they just put 1000 teams of people in a huge 1 million SF warhouse or can they mechanize it?

  • Lee- having laid up CF myself I get where you are coming from. The reason things are still being laid by hand is because the cost of the raw materials has made it almost impossible to mechanise from a cost perspective. Demand also has not warranted it. CF is more rigid than fiber glass but the process of forming is not that different so the ability to mass produce is not out of question.

    CFRP-Is plastic reinforced with CF strands or plastic infused into fabric. The 6, M3, M5 and others use CFRP in front fenders.

    If the material will be painted gel coated there is less need to worry about weave. Corvettes have been FG for decades so the tech is there.

    I’ll try to get more info on CFRP construction.

  • I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. Nice blog. I will keep coming back.

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