BEIJING -- BMW AG, which plans to make extensive use of carbon fiber in its upcoming Megacity electric vehicle, sees wider applications for the super-strong, lightweight material.
“We will be the first manufacturer to take carbon fiber to effectively high volume,” global sales head Ian Robertson said at the Beijing motor show.
Carbon fiber technology shows promise for uses outside of the electric vehicle project, he said. And that could help the venture generate better economies of scale.
The German manufacturer and partner SGL Group plan to build a $100 million carbon fiber manufacturing plant in Washington state to supply parts of the new electric car.
The Washington plant will make the carbon fiber, and a factory in Germany will mold it into paneling for the Megacity Vehicle, which will be built in Leipzig, Germany, and arrives in 2013.
“We are developing a lot of volume technology here,” Robertson said.
Weight savings from carbon fiber in the Megacity nearly compensate for the extra weight of the electric vehicle's batteries. The material also has excellent crash safety characteristics.
Although carbon fiber is expensive, its weight savings also generate cost advantages.
“By using carbon fiber, which is a little more expensive but 30 percent lighter, you don't need as many batteries for the same range,” he said. “There's a trade-off that actually works.”
BMW plans to launch an entire family of electric vehicles from the Megacity subcompact, which is designed for major metropolitan areas. BMW hasn't decided on a production name for the car.
BMW is developing environmentally friendly cars as a part of its so-called "Project i," a unit developing low-emission, highly fuel-efficient concepts.
The electric Mini, which emerged from Project i in 2008, is now being tested with a fleet of 600 vehicles.
Furthermore, the BMW Group will develop and build a so-called "New Energy Vehicle" for the Chinese market in collaboration with its joint venture partner, Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd. and expand its r&d activities at its production site in Shenyang.
Douglas A. Bolduc contributed to this report