To keep weight down BMW has embraced carbon fiber, which is strong, light, and traditionally quite expensive. Thanks to increased research spending, Bloomberg reports that BMW is close to bringing carbon fiber costs down by 90%, making it cost competitive with steel.
While automakers are starting to move towards the use of aluminum over steel, at just $1 per kilogram, steel is far and away the cheapest material to make a car out of. Carbon fiber meanwhile had, until recently, cost as much as $20 per kilogram. Overcoming that price gap is key to making carbon fiber more prevalent in more common cars. BMW wants to triple production of carbon fiber, but to do that the cost has to come down a lot.
The BMW i3 and i8 make extensive use of carbon fiber, which has allowed them both to use smaller batteries to keep the costs down instead. Because of carbon fiber, the i3 weighs just 2,655-lbs, compared to nearly 3,300-lbs of the Nissan LEAF, despite the fact that both use similar sized (22 kWh vs. 24 kWh respectively) batteries. That does wonders for efficiency, handling, and performance, and the i3 isn’t just the lightest EV; it’s one of the lightest cars you can buy, period.
If BMW can truly achieve a 90% price reduction, that would bring costs down to just $2 per kilogram, making carbon fiber a lot more economically feasible for a wider range of vehicles. While aluminum is the talk of the auto industry right, BMW wants to skip straight to carbon fiber as a replacement for steel, and they’re apparently almost there.