Everyone is talking about carbon fiber these days. The material, well-known for its strength and relative lightness to steel and aluminum, is finally beginning to become less exotic than it once was. BMW plans to lead the charge toward extensive use of the material.

BMW is already investing heavily in carbon fiber, with a focus for now on its i sub-brand. In a partnership with SGL Group, a leading manufacturer of carbon fiber, BMW is building a U.S. plant to produce the lightweight stuff. It has already revealed the carbon fiber structure of the upcoming i3, and it's pushing carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) aerodynamic upgrades to its performance models like the M3.

But it will take time to get carbon fiber worked into the whole BMW landscape. Rising oil prices, tighter fuel economy standards, and more rigorous safety requirements are all pushing the industry in the direction of carbon fiber use, but there's a lot of development work and price-reduction yet to be done. There's also the issue of making it practical to mass-produce the parts.

The question, then, is when--a question that's unfortunately not something we can answer right now. It certainly won't be a widespread material in even luxury and sports car lines before 2014, when BMW's i8, itself planned to be riddled with carboniferous lightness, will make its debut as a hybrid halo car priced above $200,000. Even 2020 may be a optimistic target.

That's not to say you can't buy cars built largely of carbon fiber right now--provided you've got the wallet for it. Lamborghini's new Aventador LP700-4, for instance, uses a carbon fiber monocoque. Sadly, it's already sold out through sometime in 2012.

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