November 21, 2012
Uma Thurman with the BMW i8. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
Article and photos by Mike Schlee
BMW Carbon Fibre Plastics
BMW is serious about carbon fibre plastics. It will be the sole structure for their upcoming line of ‘I’ electric and hybrid vehicles, and they invited us to New York City for an Uma Thurman-starring presentation to tell us all about it. Now I know we have heard such claims before; some manufacturer is claiming an expensive cutting edge technology will be included in their future space age-looking vehicle. However, what is different this time around is that BMW isn’t just pulling a fast one full of marketing hyperbole. The ‘I’s will be coming to market starting in the next year or two, and they will be constructed with carbon fibre.
To support this ambitious endeavour, BMW has set up a joint venture that includes a factory in Moses Lake, USA where the actual threads of carbon fibre will be produced and then shipped to Wackersdorf, Germany. Of course, since the i3 and i8 are all about green living and sustainability, the plant in Moses Lake uses 100% renewable hydro-electric power. BMW claims that this production takes 50% less energy than their usual steel production and 70% less water.
BMW i3. Click image to enlarge
Once the strands of fibre arrive in Wackersdorf, Germany, they are moulded into components that will be used in the production of the i3 and i8 in Leipzig, Germany such as the LifeDrive body structures. These body structures are the passenger compartments which are separate from the drivetrain architecture. This allows bodies to be interchangeable within the same electric and/or hybrid chassis and makes each drivetrain more flexible; to get the general idea, think of it as a modern take on body-on-frame construction.
The reason BMW is making such a big deal about carbon fibre plastics is due to them being both incredibly strong and incredibly light. Anyone with an interest in racing or supercars will be well acquainted with this material as it has been used for decades to both increase chassis rigidity while reducing weight. Carbon fibre is 50% lighter than steel and 30% lighter than aluminum, so the weight savings are significant. As a real-world bonus, carbon fibre is also not susceptible to corrosion like metals are.