BMW is aiming to become of the first manufacturers to begin high-volume production of carbon fiber car parts. The first part-carbon cars could be seen as soon as 2013.
The cost and production time of carbon fiber has been reduced considerably over the last few years. The all-carbon McLaren MP4-12C supercar can be produced in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost of McLaren's 1994 F1 supercar despite offering similar performance and meeting modern safety regulations.
This reduction in costs and comparative ease of production is making it more attractive than ever for use in regular production cars - not just high-end sports cars. In 2010 BMW formed a joint venture with SGL Group of Germany in order to product carbon fiber reinforced plastics.
The i3 electric car is the first recipient of the technology. A pound of the material now costs only a third as much as it did when BMW used carbon fiber on the limited edition M3 CSL's lightweight roof panel. Part of this cost reduction is through economies of scale, since it's now much easier to create parts than it was back in 2004 with the CSL.
A process called resin transfer moulding is used to form the carbon components. A carbon fiber thread fabric is placed in a mould and resin is injected under high pressure and temperature, and the whole process to form a part takes less than 10 minutes.
Strong, lightweight and now cheaper than ever to produce - it seems that BMW certainly won't be the last manufacturer to use carbon fiber across its model range.