August 10, 2015

...AND CHEAPER...:

Where's the Affordable Carbon Fiber Automobile? (Bradley Berman, August 10, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

Carbon fiber is a flexible fabric-like material that, when combined with a polymer, can be molded into the shape of a car part that is stronger and lighter than today's steel and aluminum parts. The higher cost is based on the fiber material itself, as well as longer production times. Metal parts can be stamped in seconds, but it can take several minutes for a carbon fiber part to be molded and cured.

BMW is using carbon fiber in key roof elements, supporting roof pillars, and door frames--essentially anything that's high off the road. Meanwhile, steel and aluminum are employed for the chassis. "We're saving weight, but we're saving weight up high," says Paul Ferraiolo, head of product planning and strategy for BMW North America. "It allows our engineers to design a car with a lower center of gravity."

BMW's use of carbon fiber on the 7-series leverages investments and experiences in using the material on its i3 and i8 plug-in electric cars. Carbon fiber makes more economic sense for electric cars, because lithium-ion batteries are expensive. Less weight means a smaller battery pack, a worthwhile trade-off. The shift from the i3 to the 7-series is a kind of migration of carbon fiber from one limited application to another--to offset investments that might not reach everyday products for a decade or more.

The same intra-company migration of technology explains the liberal use of carbon fiber on the $75,000 Alfa Romeo 4C sports car, manufactured by Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles. "Fiat-Chrysler has a vast resource of experience and expertise in carbon fiber technology, including lesson learned from Ferrari and Maserati," says Fabio Migliavacca, a senior product planner for Fiat-Chrysler (which also owns those high-end Italian brands).

Posted by at August 10, 2015 7:29 PM
  

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