By on May 14, 2014

2014 BMW i8 03

On the success of a first-year sell-out of the i8 and high demand for the i3, BMW is making an additional investment into its joint venture with SGL Group, with the intention of introducing carbon fiber into models beyond the i and M collections.

Autoblog reports the automaker will inject $200 million into SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers in Moses Lake, Wash. — where the carbon fiber for both models of the i brand is produced — which will be used to boost production to 9,000 tons annually (from 3,000 tons currently) with the addition of four production lines to the two already in place, and bring 120 more employees for a total of 200. The expansion will make the Moses Lake facility the largest carbon fiber plant in the world when complete in early 2015.

As for where all of the carbon fiber will end up, BMW executive Dr. Klaus Draeger says the automaker will distribute the material to the rest of its overall lineup, a move that has always been in the cards according to BMW i communications manager Manuel Sattig:

Every idea, every technology, every revolution or new material that we came up with for BMW i eventually had to enable the rest of the BMW Group. Which means, yes, there is a plan to bring carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) to the rest of our fleet.

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28 Comments on “BMW Investing In A Carbon-Fiber Future Beyond i, M Brands...”


  • avatar

    I would like to see how much weight could be shaved off my cars if they were made of Aluminum and Carbon Fiber.

    How much faster would they be?

    But how much would they cost?

    And would I be safer in the event of an accident?

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      Weight we can estimate from the i3:

      Its ~2600lbs. The leaf is 3200 lbs.

      So really, the i3s is roughly the same size as a Leaf, both are seriously ‘built to weight’, and the i3 is close to 20% weight savings.

      But it is efficent. The Tesla is 38 kWh/100M, the Leaf is 30 kWh/100M, the i3 is 27 kWh/100M: the weight is a huge factor: the Tesla is a beast, the Leaf is light, and the i3 is a featherweight.

      Crash wise, it should be about the same.

      Cost wise, the i3 has a $15k price bump compared with the Leaf, but its hard to disintangle the greater content from the additional cost of carbon fiber from other efficiency costs from “its a BMW so we charge more”.

  • avatar

    BMW Investing In A Carbon-Fiber Future In America!

    • 0 avatar
      Vega

      Thanks to cheap hydroelectricity in the Pacific NW.

      • 0 avatar
        hgrunt

        I thought a lot of composite tech comes out of UW because of Boeing, rather than cheap electricity. Would definitely be interested in knowing how much power CF production uses vs normal methods.

        • 0 avatar
          Vega

          They only thing they do in Washington is taking PAN fibers bought from an SGL/Mitsubishi JV in Japan and turn them into single carbon fibers using thermal stabilization (basically using ovens, furnaces and oxygen enrichement). All the following steps (weaving, curing, forming etc.) are done at SGL and BMW facilities in Germany. Availability of cheap green energy is really the deciding factor, not know-how. Currently only 80 employees work there.

          http://www.sglacf.com/en/production/moses-lake-usa/production-process-mol.html

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Your point about “know how” does not follow from your argument and happens not to be true. Cheap energy is important to reduce costs but it’s greenness isn’t, nor does that reduce the importance of knowledge. Years ago, I could tell you what aircraft had the best composites and rank them. A primary bit of information I use besides field data is who was hired at what company and doing what part of the process.

            So, location can be a factor for both talent and energy and environmental factors (meaning weather not green BS).

            If you want to say it’s all about cost per kilowatt then throw out the data on cost per kilowatt. I doubt the commercial rates are even close to our best rates here in Texas, and there is not a heck of a lot of composite manufacturing here, though there is some.

          • 0 avatar
            Vega

            If you are marketing your electric cars as eco friendly, a 100% renewable energy source like hydroelectricity in the Pacific NW is a decisive factor and not green BS.

            And talking about the quality of the composites: THEY ARE NOT BUILT IN THE US. They take fibre balls from Japan, heat them and then ship the carbonized fibres to Germany. As single fibre twines, not composite sheets or anything.

            If you don’t believe me, hear it from the horses’ mouth in SGL’s 2011 press release:

            “Sustainable Plant with Room to Grow
            In line with BMW and SGL’s leading roles in sustainable business operations, the decision to build the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake was based primarily on the availability of clean, renewable hydropower and competitive energy costs in the state of Washington.”

            From your Texas point of view eco arguments might look like a lot of BS, but the rest of the world sometimes thinks differently. If you want to sell products to customers who don’t think green arguments are BS, this becomes an important factor in investment decisions.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            If you can sell BS for cash, then sure, BS as an input for your product makes sense. I thought your point was cheap energy, not cheap BS, sorry. I note from from your quote that cheap isn’t an advantage the horses mouth mentions either. You added that, and now neither want to back it up or admit it was an error.

            While I doubt very much that know how is not important, I was incorrect about what was going on at the plant, you were correct.

            In Texas, we have plenty of people with actual concerns over the environment, and we have the normal idiots who think that the CF from that plant is somehow greener than one made elsewhere on the grid, and we have Bubba’s too. The really interesting thing is our extra high proportion of the first bunch while our rep is having a high proportion of the last. The rep is due to a lower than normal ratio of the idiots. It’s disappointing how that works, but part of the normal human condition.

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            @Landcrusher (in reply to Vega): “If you can sell BS for cash, then sure, BS as an input for your product makes sense. I thought your point was cheap energy, not cheap BS, sorry. I note from from your quote that cheap isn’t an advantage the horses mouth mentions either. You added that, and now neither want to back it up or admit it was an error.”

            Uh… Let’s take Vega’s quote from SGL again: “In line with BMW and SGL’s leading roles in sustainable business operations, the decision to build the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake was based primarily on the availability of clean, renewable hydropower AND COMPETITIVE ENERGY COSTS in the state of Washington.”

            Pay attention to the bit I capitalised this time around.

            Now who gets to admit they were in error?

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Competitive and cheap are not synonyms.

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            Neither are “weak comeback” and “stupid to even try that one”, but sometimes either one fits a given situation just as well as the other.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Troll much?

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            @Landcrusher: Huh — who, ME, “trolling”? No, really not. If anyone is “trolling” it’s you, AFAICS. I just thought you’d slammed Vega unfairly, pointed out where you were wrong, and you come back with something as brain-dead as “Competitive and cheap are not synonyms”. It was bleeding obvious that “competitive energy prices” was used as an argument for why this factory, which apparently uses a lot of energy, was situated where it was. So the “competitiveness” referred to obviously wasn’t from the energy _seller’s_ viewpoint, but the buyer’s — that is, it WAS TOO, in effect, used precisely as a synonym for “cheap”. If you want to claim you didn’t read it as such, you’re in a club with a membership of approximately one.

            But that’s not what this is all about, of course: What really happened is much more likely to have been that you just plain didn’t notice that clause, unfairly dinged Vega over disregarding something they didn’t disregard at all, and when I point this out to you, you don’t have the balls to say, “dang, you’re right; missed that, my bad”, but in stead try to squirm off the hook on the first technicality you can find, no matter how silly. At least that’s the direction Billy Ockam is pointing in with his razor. (I too used to have that reflex.)

            And no, even if you’ve got even cheap-_er_ energy in Texas, that ain’t got nuthin’ to do with this, so don’t even think about starting down the road of demanding comparative kWh prices from me. This particular sub-discussion was about your claim that Vega’s quote *didn’t even mention* cheap energy, which I showed it did. Now man up enough to admit this tiny error — honestly, who do you thinks looks bigger, the man who can admit a tiny error or the one who can’t? — and apologise to Vega, and then maybe everybody won’t think you’ve been possessed by wossname, the nitwit with the Bender avatar.

          • 0 avatar
            CRConrad

            BTW, this is still small enough potatoes for that manning-up to work… Just barely.

            Your error is getting less tiny with each post, which I know makes it ever harder to admit — but OTOH, makes you look ever Benderer the more you continue to defend it.

            Honestly, this is not an attempt to be snide, but heart-felt advice. Take it from an ex-flame warrior with the burn scars to prove it. :-)

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Sorry, but “competitive” energy prices are not the same as “cheap” ones. You don’t choose a plant in Washington state to add value to parts from Japan that are needed in Germany because the price of the energy is competitive.

            They are not the same. No one is claiming cheap energy except Vega, who did so twice. I asked early on in the exchange for cost per Kw. He decided it was really the green part that was more important, and having gotten that clarification, I then admitted the part where I was wrong.

            You then come in here and troll after the conversation has been over days hoping for what? Why do you even care? Do you have a point? Do you EVER have a point?

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    It seems a consortium of German vehicle manufacturers are working together to manufacture carbon fibre vehicles.

    The first link shows that the SGL Group is involved with the German auto manufacturers as well.

    The Germans used aluminium and now carbon? I wonder why?

    http://www.germaninnovation.org/research-and-innovation/centers-of-innovation/center-of-innovation?id=7ce94712-9d2a-e211-9fb3-000c29e5517f

    http://www.austrade.gov.au/Invest/Investor-Updates/2013/0709-German-and-Australian-companies-cooperate-on-advanced-carbon-fibre-research

  • avatar
    Vega

    SGL is a German company based in Wiesbaden. Moses Lake is where they produce the carbon fibers that afterwards get woven and baked into shape at BMW in Germany.

    Moses Lake was chosen for cost reasons and green cred. Carbon fiber production is extremely energy intensive, SGL is using 100% cheap local hydroelectricity in Washington.

  • avatar
    Chris FOM

    This was a given. BMW’ using their current i and M models as their slightly more mass-market of the LFA, getting experience with carbon fiber as a higher and higher proportion of a car before transitioning it to their volume models.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    In the past, a lot of products being used in the auto industry have come down in price. I wonder if that could happen with CF. Could competition drive innovation for efficient manufacture and perhaps cheaper inputs?

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      I think that’s what’s happening so far. Currently, the cost of mass producing a CF panel is far higher than simply stamping one out of steel, so they’re largely found in lower volume production cars.

      Currently, there’s some tech floating around that’s pretty neat, but nothing that’s suitable for a million cars a year yet. Boeing has a thing that looks like a 3D printer to produce shaped CF panels, Toyota has the CF loom and McLaren can produce a MP4-12C/650S chassis shell in about 4 hours.

      Now we just have to wait for that stuff to trickle down until the cost gap with steel stamping closes. As the cost comes down, aluminum and steel industries will come up with new products to. I remember reading on TTAC somewhere that high strength steel was a reaction to maintain marketshare as more aluminum began to be used.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    What is wrong with normal old fiberglass for body panels and stuff?

    • 0 avatar
      Vega

      Fiberglass cannot be used for structural components, it still needs a metal framework, which limits the scope for weight saving.

      Carbon fiber has the most attractive combination of low weight and strength, that’s why it has been the basis for all F1 cars since the mid- to late 80s.

      • 0 avatar
        thesilence

        Seeing what happens to F1 front wing when they have a simple collision, I have to wonder how practical carbon fiber is when you see all the scratches that you get parking in the average parking lot.

        • 0 avatar
          Landcrusher

          Scratches are mostly paint deep. Composites in general outperform in dings and dents in light aircraft. Having owned aluminum skinned and composite aircraft, I would prefer composite by a wide margin.

        • 0 avatar
          gtrslngr

          Ahhhh Carbon Fibers use in daily driver cars . A personal pet peeve . Having a couple of close friends who build some of the best and most expensive CF bicycles [ both engineered by former F1 CF specialists btw ] .. here’s a short list of the ills of CF ;

          1) CF is a one hit and replace it material . Once impacted whether damage is visible or not the material is compromised and weakened

          2) CF has the notorious habit of masking any damage in the lower layers not visible to the naked eye [ the FAA gets around this by doing extensive X-Rays to detect hidden damage .. which neither car dealerships or body shops have access to ]

          3) CF once damaged is hardly ever repairable and when it is is extremely labor intensive and expensive to do so properly

          4) 99% of the CF used in road cars [ with the exception of very high end luxury/hyper/super cars ] is crap . As a specific example . The CF GM uses in their C7 as well as Cadillac V series is of a lower quality than would be found on the cheapest of CF bicycles

          etc etc

          The one and only saving grace of BMWs’s use of CF is … theirs is not a ‘pure’ Carbon Fiber but rather a hybrid of Carbon Fiber elements and recycled plastics … which alters and eliminates many of the negative traits of ‘straight’ CF

          With Pagani being the only other automotive CF end user that has dealt with the negative traits of CF in a road car with their proprietary Titanium/Carbon Fiber hybrid material

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Nothing so long as it’s not structural, or you are not going for the lightest possible part. Overall, you do best with a mix to balance costs, weight and durability. It has become fairly normal to call anything with a reasonably high CF content CF even when it’s not all CF. There will likely need to be a standard, though 100% CF is not best in all applications. Mixing materials is often best regardless of cost, and if you have to replace a panel you would likely prefer it not to be 100% CF when it could be CF reinforced.


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