BMW Investing In A Carbon-Fiber Future Beyond I, M Brands

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon
bmw investing in a carbon fiber future beyond i m brands

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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  • Vega Vega on May 14, 2014

    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.

  • Chris FOM Chris FOM on May 14, 2014

    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.

  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on May 14, 2014

    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?

    • Hgrunt Hgrunt on May 14, 2014

      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.

  • Tinn-Can Tinn-Can on May 14, 2014

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

    • See 4 previous
    • Gtrslngr Gtrslngr on May 15, 2014

      @thesilence 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