BMW AG and the SGL Group will build a $100 million carbon fiber manufacturing plant in U.S. state of Washington to supply parts for a new BMW electric vehicle.
The greenfield factory will begin production in the third-quarter of 2011 and make ultra-lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastics exclusively for BMW's first vehicle under a new sub-brand. BMW calls the project a “megacity” vehicle. The automaker didn't disclose the sub-brand's name or details about the vehicle other than to say it will be electric-powered and arrive before 2015.
BMW is developing such cars as part of its Project i unit set up in 2008. BMW wants to avoid diluting its brand image and has decided to sell these vehicles under a sub-brand, similar to the M branding for high-performance vehicles.
In February, BMW announced it would make carbon fiber parts with SGL in Landshut and Wackersdorf, Germany, as part of their joint venture, SGL Automotive Fibers GmbH & Co KG, which was formed in October 2009.
The U.S. plant, which will be in Moses Lake, will employ 80 and be built by the joint venture, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC .
The technology is similar to fiberglass in that it combines a reinforcing material -- in this case, carbon fibers -- with plastic as a binding agent to create a product with a specific molded shape. Carbon fiber is currently used in limited parts on low-volume cars, but BMW will use it throughout the structure and in exterior and interior body panels, said a BMW of North America spokesman.
Robert Koehler, CEO of the Weisbaden, Germany,-based SGL Group, said in a statement the new factory “will be the world's most cost-efficient carbon fiber plant using state-of-the-art technologies.”
SGL already has carbon fiber and composite materials factories in the United States and Canada, making parts such as wind energy and aerospace components.
Friedrich Eichiner, member of the BMW AG board of management for finance, said that two companies “will be able to produce carbon fiber enhanced components in large volumes at competitive costs for the first time.
“This is particularly relevant for electric-powered vehicles such as the megacity vehicle.”
BMW has used its own proprietary carbon fiber production method for concept cars and limited production parts since 2000.
The new car will bring together global production sources beyond the new Washington site, with SGL and its Japanese joint-venture partner Mitsubishi Rayon creating part of the carbon fiber formula in Otake, Japan.
BMW will make the electric car at the same Leipzig, Germany, assembly plant that makes the 1 series passenger car and X1 crossover.
Rhoda Miel of Plastics News contributed to this report.