GENEVA -- BMW Group brands plan to make much greater use of lightweight but strong carbon fiber, says Ian Robertson, BMW's global sales and marketing boss.
"A carbon spaceframe means less weight, and less weight means less fuel consumption," he said in an interview today at the Geneva auto show.
"Carbon fiber is something we're investing in as a company," he said. The BMW i3, previously known as the Megacity Vehicle, has a shell that uses carbon fiber. So does the i8.
"We learned a lot from our experience with Formula One. Across the brands, carbon fiber is going to be one of the technologies of the future, which is why we're investing in it," Robertson said.
BMW owns part of a plant in Washington state that makes carbon fiber materials, including carbon fiber-reinforced plastic.
Separately, Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy for BMW of North America, said the plant has enough capacity for BMW's foreseeable needs, and could even make materials for other car companies.
Robertson said, "With increasing oil prices, if they continue to move upwards at the rate we've seen or even greater, for the BMW Group brands, whether it's Mini or BMW or for that matter Rolls-Royce, fuel efficiency will be very, very much more of a focus."
He said a lot of development work is still needed to make carbon fiber more practical and affordable for mass-production cars.
"But I think there will be much more widespread use of carbon fiber," Robertson said, "whether it's visible carbon fiber that's finished to a level where customers see it, or if it's under the skin, in a very different format."