BEIJING -- BMW AG, which plans to make extensive use of carbon fiber in its upcoming Megacity electric vehicle, sees wider applications for the strong, lightweight material.
"We will be the first manufacturer to take carbon fiber to effectively high volume," BMW's global sales head, Ian Robertson, said last month at the Beijing auto show.
Carbon fiber technology shows promise for uses beyond the electric-vehicle project, Robertson said. 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 in the U.S. 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, which arrives in 2013, Robertson said.
"We are developing a lot of volume technology here," he said.
Weight savings from carbon fiber in the Megacity nearly compensates 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," Robertson said.
"There's a trade-off that actually works."