2014 BMW i3, 2013 Frankfurt Auto ShowEnlarge Photo
BMW currently sources a lot of the carbon fiber components for its revolutionary i3 and i8 models as well as its sporty M cars from a company called SGL Group, which produces most of the lightweight pieces at a plant jointly owned with the German automaker. The two firms are now expanding the site to meet growing demand for carbon fiber components, which BMW plans to also use on its core models in the very near future.
The advantages of carbon fiber in vehicle construction are obvious. The material is around 30 percent lighter than aluminum and 50 percent lighter than steel but is also very strong, and used in the right places can also help lower a vehicle’s center of gravity, boost rigidity and improve weight balance.
The downside is that carbon fiber components take longer to produce, but BMW is getting around that by utilizing specially developed bonding processes, greater automation and recycled production offcuts.
On regular cars, carbon fiber, in the form of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, is typically used for roof panels and bumper supports, but going forward BMW is looking at using it to construct lighter wheels, seat frames and instrument panel frames. Importantly, BMW is also looking at using the lightweight material for its MINI brand and it’s likely we’ll see it used in future models from BMW’s Rolls-Royce brand too.