MUNICH -- Large-scale manufacturing of cars made with lightweight carbon fiber is moving closer to reality as costs start to fall, according to a materials-development group that has BMW as a partner.
MAI Carbon Cluster Management GmbH, a research effort supported by Germany's federal government, businesses and research institutions, is making progress toward reducing carbon-fiber production costs by 90 percent, according to Klaus Drechsler, head of the 80 million-euro ($102 million) project.
"We've certainly reached a halfway point on our cost-cutting target for suitable carbon-fiber parts," said Drechsler, who's also a professor at the Technical University of Munich. "We'll see a lot more carbon-fiber use in the next generation of cars."
BMW and Audi, the world's two biggest makers of luxury cars, are among more than 70 companies and other entities backing MAI.
Manufacturers are seeking carbon-fiber components to replace standard metal parts that may weigh twice as much.
The material was reserved until recently for high-end sports cars because it costs as much as $20 a kilogram (2.2 pounds) in its raw form, compared with less than $1 for steel, according to Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.
"The key is to really drive automation" in production, Drechsler said. "There are different scenarios about how carmakers can use carbon fiber -- extensively like BMW, with a carbon-fiber chassis, or with smaller components."