Sunday, July 4, 2010

BMW Continues Push in Carbon Fibers

MUNICH (July 2, 2:10 p.m. ET) -- BMW AG has started to lift the veil off its future carbon-fiber electric car, the Megacity Vehicle, which will launch what the carmaker calls the first “volume-produced vehicle” with a passenger cell made from the composite.

While other car companies have focused on adapting existing car bodies for future electric vehicles, BMW has pledged to create a new concept in vehicle architecture and body construction for mass-production cars. It previously announced a $100 million investment in a joint venture with SGL Group in Moses Lake, Wash., to provide part of the carbon-fiber production needed for the Megacity.

BMW maintains that the weight of the lithium-ion batteries needed to power electric vehicles must be offset with lighter materials and a redesigned structure for the car itself, a system it is calling the “LifeDrive” architecture.

During a July 2 press event at its headquarters in Munich, BMW showed its first rough sketch of the Megacity — set to debut in 2013 — and displayed more details about its carbon-fiber future.

“Our … architecture is helping us to open a new chapter in the automotive lightweight design,” said Klaus Draeger, a member of BMW’s board of management for development, in a news release. “This concept allows us to practically offset the extra [551-771 pounds] of weight typically found in electrically powered vehicles.”

The carbon-fiber passenger cell — also called the “body in white” by the auto industry — will sit on top of the lightweight frame holding the batteries, motor-drive system and crash-structural system, BMW executives said. It has been testing experimental carbon- fiber cells as part of its preparation for the Megacity.

In addition to the lighter weight, the carmaker said the architecture opens more potential for different body-style designs.

BMW already has some carbon-fiber parts in production, using its own proprietary molding system at its Landshut, Germany, assembly plant to make roofs for the M3 version of its 3 Series cars.

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