BMW is going buddy-buddy with the one and only Boeing aircraft maker to share thoughts on carbon fiber, the lightweight perpetual material of tomorrow, but never today, in the auto industry.
Why, you ask? Because come hell or high water, BMW is making carbon fiber the material of today in 2014 when its i3 and i8 electric cars make it to production.
Boeing is a master at molding carbon fiber, using it for half of the parts on the new Dreamliner 787 mega-sized aircraft. The woven material is 30-percent lighter than aluminum and 50-percent lighter than steel, yet it’s much stronger than either of them.
BMW says that with all the electric components in the i3, it is expected to weigh about 2,900 pounds. By comparison, a similarly sized ActiveE electric car based on the BMW 1 Series with the same electric motor and batteries weighs close to two tons. Carbon fiber makes a world of difference in weight, which in turn makes a world of difference in efficiency.
Already BMW has partnered with SGL Carbon to build a facility in Moses Lake, Washington, to turn out parts for the i3 and i8. When asked at the Los Angeles Auto Show how BMW could make a competitively priced car out of the material, a representative from the automaker told us that the parts wouldn’t necessarily be aerospace-grade; they would never have to withstand the pressure of going 40,000 in the air at a 600 mph. BMW’s panels would be cheaper to produce.
Still, BMW is in a race, as rival automaker Volkswagen recently purchased stock in SGL for its own future applications. Volkswagen already holds a dialogue with Boeing for its Lamborghini supercar brand, as most products are made from carbon fiber.
Traditionally for aerospace applications and exotic cars, carbon fiber has come in woven sheets of cloth-like material that are molded and then baked at high temperatures. BMW is looking for cheaper options with its carbon fiber reinforced plastic.
We imagine that that’ll help BMW in the long run to collaborate with Boeing. But coincidentally enough, the aircraft maker gets some help from outsiders, too: Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru, puts together the center wing panels on the 787 Dreamliner. It, too, has some experience molding the space-age material.