BMW: carbon fiber for affordable lightweight vehicle design?


The inescapable theme at this year's Plastics in Automotive Engineering conference, organized by the Association of German Engineers, was lightweighting, and the buzz word was carbon fiber. With good cause.

One of the main highlights on display was the new BMW i3, the first result of BMW's Project i initiative, which aimed to develop sustainable—FSC-certified eucalyptus wood veneer decorative elements can be found in the i3—and forward-looking mobility concepts. The i3 represents BMW's first foray into electromobility on a large scale, as well as illustrating BMW's "rigorous lightweighting-optimization of the vehicle concept and material," as the company put it. To make up for the additional weight of the electrical components, a whole new body concept had to be developed, called LifeDrive, in order to satisfy the requirements of lightweight, sustainable vehicle design. This concept comprises a full carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell, called the Life module, combined with an aluminum chassis (the Drive module).

According to BMW, the use of CFRP offers potential weight savings of at least 30% compared with aluminum and 50% compared with steel. Yet the use of CFRP has benefits that go beyond lightweighting alone, said company engineers during a plenary presentation at the VDI conference, such as enhanced crash and acoustic properties and a better design/quality perception. Its use also eliminates the need for various press and paint shop operations.
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