To keep weight down and maximize efficiency, BMW plans on using a lot of carbon fiber composites in its upcoming Mega City electric vehicle. To help establish a viable supply chain, the German automaker recently announced it is partnering with SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers to open a carbon fiber factory in Moses Lake, Washington.
"This new plant in Moses Lake is a milestone in the use of carbon fibers for large-scale production in the automotive industry," said Robert Koehler, SGL's CEO. "The manufacture of carbon fibers is a core business for SGL Group and together with our partner BMW Group, we will ensure that carbon fibers play a revolutionary role in lightweight automotive construction."
The two companies will invest $100 million in the production facility. The joint venture will create some 80 jobs at the Moses Lake facility. BMW and SGL chose the site due to several contributing factors, including low energy costs (sourced in part from renewable hydropower), a skilled labor force, and the open arms from local government agencies. (Can you say tax incentives?) According to Koehler, the factory will be "the world's most cost-efficient carbon fiber plant using state-of-the-art technologies."
Of course, the new plant will be but a single player in an ensemble cast that ultimately provides BMW with finished parts. Raw materials are prepped in Japan and sent to Moses Lake, where polyacrylic fibers will be processed into actual carbon fiber. That product is then shipped to Wackersdorf, Germany, where the fibers are woven into a usable fabric. After that, the woven fibers are shipped to a BMW plant in Landshut, Germany, that works the sheets into actual automotive parts.
That Landshut plant isn't too far from BMW's Leipzig factory. Although it's currently home to the 1 Series, it will ultimately build the actual Mega City electric car come 2014. According to the automaker, the EV will extensively use carbon fiber in a move to eliminate weight, which will subsequently improve the car's efficiency and extend its range.