BMW isn’t known for making inexpensive vehicles, and carbon fiber isn't an inexpensive material. Pairing the two could be costly for consumers, but the automaker says it wants to keep prices reasonable for proposed vehicles that would be made of carbon fiber—an industry first.
BMW says that by 2012, it will open a Washington plant specifically to make carbon fiber. The manufacturer in July unveiled its i3 subcompact-car (slated for 2013) and i8 sports-car (slated for 2014) concepts. Both will have predominantly carbon-fiber bodies.
BMW spokesperson Tom Plucinsky says the reason carbon fiber typically is so expensive is because aerospace-grade carbon fiber (the material that’s used commonly in carbon-fiber products) requires a labor-intensive production process and isn't produced in high volume. The i3 and i8 will use a lesser-grade but easier-to-produce carbon fiber.
The trade-off is a material that’s less attractive and will have to be made thicker than it would if BMW used aerospace carbon fiber. Nevertheless, Plucinsky says, BMW's carbon fiber still is stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum.
Plucinsky refused to speculate on what either the i3 or i8 might cost, and analysts with whom we spoke were unsure about carbon fiber's effect on the price.