BMW AG plans to begin high-volume production of carbon fiber parts in two years, making it a strong contender to be the first automaker to move beyond limited-edition use of the exotic material.
But Daimler AG, which has taken steps aimed at making carbon fiber parts in 2012, is among the automakers racing toward the same goal.
In 2013, BMW will start building the i3 electric car, a vehicle that features a passenger cell -- the protective shell around the passenger compartment that ensures the integrity of the vehicle in a crash -- made of plastic reinforced with carbon fiber. BMW will produce about 30,000 i3s a year, according to Automotive News Europe.
BMW declined to confirm likely production volume for the i3. But Joerg Pohlman, managing director of the joint venture that produces BMW's carbon fiber, said BMW can make tens of thousands of vehicles.
"We have developed a very flexible production plan," Pohlman said in a telephone interview. "We are prepared to manufacture many more cars if demand is higher than our conservative estimate."
If so, the i3 will be a major breakthrough: a carbon fiber-intensive vehicle produced in volume at a moderate price.