At least one German luxury carmaker, BMW, is betting big that greater use of carbon fibers will help it cut its fleet's weight. The OEM last October formed a 51:49 joint venture to manufacture carbon fibers and fabrics for the automotive industry. This month, BMW officials said they plan to introduce an electrically powered vehicle in the next years, and greater use of carbon fiber—to cut vehicle weight enough so that battery power will suffice—is a critical part of this plan.
BMW says the new electrical cars' chassis will largely be formed from carbon fiber-reinforced thermoset plastics. BMW boss Norbert Reithofer, speaking at the carmaker's recent financial results press conference, said the electric car, tentatively called 'Megacity Vehicle' (MCV), will be built in BMW's plant in Leipzig, Germany, and likely also at a facility in North America. One of BMW's largest shareholder, Susanne Klatten, Germany's richest woman and one of the ten wealthiest women in the world, owns a 12.5% stake in BMW and a 22.3% share of SGL Carbon.
German financial newspapers report BMW managers have said the new vehicles will be much more than simply 'gadgets' for people who are crazy about cars; rather, an entire series of carbon fiber chassis vehicles is planned, likely branded MCV. The carmaker will start with a 4-door sedan to make clear this technology is bound for much more than just speedy two-seaters.
German newspaper Die Welt (The World) reported the new cars would be in the market from 2015, although the article also stated that BMW likely has some puffer room built into this goal.
Speaking to MPW earlier this month at the 'Plastics in automotive engineering' conference in Mannheim, Germany, Eugenio Toccalino, marketing manager, Europe at Dow Automotive, said industry rumors are circulating that other carmakers also are considering securing their own carbon fiber supply agreements. His company is working on processing technology for carbon fiber reinforced epoxy to try to get cycle times to five minutes or less, a range he said is necessary for the estimated build rates of 50,000 - 100,000 vehicles/yr. "We're also developing the necessary adhesives" for these chassis, he said, adding he also expects car hoods and complete roofs to be potential targeted applications for the carbon fiber-reinforced epoxy parts.
As reported earlier this week on PlasticsToday, aerospace giant Boeing is actively seeking outlets for carbon fibers reclaimed from its aircraft production process. If indeed other carmakers are seeking to ensure their own carbon fiber supply, then Boeing may well soon have more buyers than it can handle.