BMW Group is limiting the use of carbon fiber in its cars even though they are lightweight; however, they are expensive. The German company is turning to cheaper lightweight materials for some its biggest selling cars to keep profit margins high.
Lighter cars consume less fuel or if they are battery powered, it can travel for longer distance, with is a vital attribute for manufacturers to score vital points with customers and with regulators as well.
BMW had invested heavily in the carbon fiber technology to build its cars which are stiffer and lighter than aluminum. The company is now staring at tough choices on how to build cars more profitably as rivals are closing in with their own electric cars.
Oliver Zipse, BMW's board member responsible for manufacturing said, the main equation how much do they spend in the reduction of a kilogram of weight and is not the material but a combination of materials.
For an electric car, the lighter it is the better to house a large battery to power it and cut costs. Batteries are the most expensive part of the building an electric car; however, they remain an unprofitable segment in the automobile industry.
Post launching two cars which made use of carbon fibre heavily including the i3 city car and the i8 hybrid in 2013, BMW's new 5-series does not use the material for major of its components.
The BMW i3 is an expensive vehicle, thanks to its extensive use of carbon fibre and has contributed to its lower sales. The BMW i3 costs 45,000 euros (approx. Rs 33 lakhs).
Even the BMW i8 passenger cell is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, a manufacturing technique which involves bonding of carbon fibers to make components. Ideally, this is done by using conventional welding and stamping methods if they are manufactured by metal.
BMW is under pressure to raise its level of game as its German rival, Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen AG, which owns the Audi, as well as new entrant Tesla Motors Inc. in the U.S. have planned aggressively to get affluent buyers and to satisfy regulators with new electric cars.
The company though is ahead by two in terms of technology in the carbon fiber field and will make use of the expertise to help find solutions.
BMW is looking to work hard to develop hybrid methods on how to bond carbon fiber with other materials like steel and aluminum.