In the grand scheme of things, carbon fiber has kind of been like hydrogen. It appears to be a logical building block of the automotive future but remains at the moment just out of reach for mass-produced vehicles.
BMW might have cracked that problem, though. The German automaker has put over 10 years into research and development of carbon fiber that is not only strong and lightweight but also quick enough to produce to make it a viable material from which production cars could be built.
Just a few years ago, BMW began adding carbon fiber roofs to some of its M3 sports sedans and coupes. Since then, its carbon fiber production processes have improved significantly.
Speaking with Autocar, board member of the BMW Group Harald Krueger said, “Compared with initial industrial production of carbon-fiber M3 roofs, we have succeeded in lowering manufacturing costs for carbon-fiber body components by as much as 50 percent.”
BMW has taken what it’s learned and is putting it to good use. The upcoming BMW i3 EV’s body structure will be composed nearly entirely of carbon fiber. “In the BMW i3, we were able to reduce production cycle times for carbon-fiber body components by a further 30 per cent,” Krurger added.
What are the leaps BMW has made in carbon fiber construction? Notably, engineers have worked out a new quick bonding techniques, joining together carbon fiber components quickly and reliably.
We’ve long wagered that future fuel-efficient cars would have to rely on lightweight carbon fiber. We just imagined that rather than reducing costs at the production point, automakers would simply have to charge more at the dealer. We’re glad we were wrong.