BMW Videos Emphasize Carbon Fiber in Electric Car Strategy

By · May 20, 2013

One of the 10 videos about BMW electric cars just released by the company.

The use of lightweight carbon fiber car bodies in BMW’s upcoming electric cars is the focus of a new series of videos produced by the company. The set of 10 videos released on YouTube last week, promote the i3 all-electric compact car and i8 plug-in hybrid sports car.

The overall theme of the videos, about two minutes each, is innovation: how BMW is not simply swapping electric motors for gas engines, but looking at electric mobility from a fresh perspective.

“Many people don’t realize that it’s lightweight construction that makes electric vehicles efficient and dynamic,” said Bernhard Dressler, manager, BMW i Life-Modul, in one of the videos posted to YouTube. “Our approach has been to develop a completely new vehicle concept especially to tackle the demands of electric mobility. And to do this we decided to make the body out of carbon fiber reinforced plastic.”

Don’t be misled by Dressler’s use of the word “concept.” The videos make it clear that the use of carbon fiber is not an experimental project for one-off show vehicles. “We are now making carbon fiber accessible for a series car production,” said Jorg Pohlman, managing director, SGL automotive carbon fibers and BMW Group. “Many people think that it won’t be possible to manufacture carbon fiber in a sustainable fashion. We will prove them wrong.”

BMW video screenshot

Screen shot from BMW web video about the use of carbon fiber in the company's electric cars.

The project will be the first time carbon fiber is used in mass production, according to BMW. Pohlman said that BMW's carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, Wash., will soon crank up from a few thousand parts to millions of parts per year.

Cost Concerns

The i3’s range from its 22 kWh pack is expected to approach 100 miles in real-world driving. Pre-orders for the BMW i3 are already underway in Germany—and by summer, will expand to other European markets. The final production version of the i3 is expected be revealed at the Frankfurt auto show in September. The i3 should go on sale in Europe in November, followed by sales in the United States in late December 2013 or early January 2014.

The added cost of carbon fiber is not discussed in the videos, except to say that BMW is working to reduce cost. Some observers believe the cost of the i3 electric car will be beyond what the market expects—even for a luxury brand like BMW. Official pricing has not been released, but it could approach $50,000.

Other videos in the series provide supporting evidence that the use of carbon fiber bodies will make BMW electric cars lighter, more efficient, more sustainable, and more suited to developing ground-up new vehicle designs. And it will make the i3 and i8 safer, according to the company.

A video on safety describes the vehicle testing process as “torture.” Batteries and high voltage systems are perforated by nails, crushed, overheated, an dropped from heights, and submerged in a water tank. The car’s protective skins will also mean fewer dings and scratches in parking lots.

Two of the 10 videos also give a nod to BMW’s holistic view of future mobility: one focusing on the company’s Parkatmyhouse mobile app, and the other one looks at BMW’s DriveNow carsharing programs. The i3, according to the video, will be available as a shared car.

More Range and More Fun

BMW video screenshot

The i8 plug-in hybrid will follow after the i8 compact electric car.

Of course, one of the main points of using lightweight carbon fiber car bodies in an electric car is to increase the range—while delivering the “ultimate driving experience” expected from a Bimmer. The video series includes a video entitled “driving pleasure” and another one called “driving range.”

In the range piece, Tom Moloughney, a contributor to and a long-time driver of EVs made by BMW, said that with all EVs, “range anxiety is real, but after about a month, you stop worrying about.” He said that 80 percent of his household driving in Northern New Jersey has been with his BMW Active E, dispelling the myth that EVs are useful only as a secondary car. Why does is the electric BMW the preferred car in his house? Simple: “Because it’s a fun vehicle that we really enjoy driving,” said Moloughney.

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