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BMW i3: Cheap, mass-produced carbon fiber cars finally come of age

The just-announced BMW i3 could be a breakthrough for carbon fiber production as well as for electric drive. Carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) provides the weight reduction that effectively neutralizes the heft of the car’s battery pack. To make it happen, BMW teamed up with Boeing for expertise on carbon fiber manufacturing. As in the early days of the industrial revolution, BMW even sited one of the carbon fiber textile facilities near a stream for power. The result is a four-passenger car that can go 100 miles on a charge or accelerate to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds, yet weigh only 2,700 pounds (1224 kg).

BMW will be producing the first passenger car using significant amounts of carbon fiber in a vehicle designed for production of tens of thousands of units a year with no significant cost premium (over what BMW already gets for being BMW). Many automakers including BMW have made roof or hood panels from carbon fiber, mostly for limited production performance models. There are also million-dollar McLarens and Lamborghinis with CFRP bodies. Here, all the body panels are of carbon fiber and the car costs less than $50,000.


“With the BMW i3, we get a reduction of 250-350 kilos [550-770 pounds] from carbon fiber,” says Daniel Schafter, head of production of Concept BMW I, “and that more or less compensates for the weight of the battery.”


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