NEW YORK -- BMW, which brags about building the "ultimate driving machine," strove for ultimate sustainability with its i3 electric vehicle that goes on sale in the United States next spring.
Not only is the i3 crammed with eco-friendly materials, it also requires fewer resources and less energy to produce than a conventional car, BMW says.
The carbon fiber used for the passenger cell is made at a factory that uses hydroelectric power.
The i3 is assembled at a plant in Leipzig, Germany, that relies heavily on wind power for electricity.
"With every step of the way, from development to production to aftersales, the BMW i3 sets new benchmarks in sustainable mobility," BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer said at the car's unveiling here.
The five-door, rear-wheel-drive vehicle has the footprint of BMW's smallest car, the 1 series. But, at 2,700 pounds, it weighs 585 pounds less.
Ulrich Kranz, senior vice president of the i product line, said the i3 was engineered from a clean slate and shares no components with other BMW vehicles.
The dashboard is made of fibers from the subtropical kenaf plant, which has been used for centuries to make rope and rugs.
The carbon fiber fabric for the passenger cell is produced at SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, a joint venture in Moses Lake, Wash., with carbon products manufacturer SGL Group.
The carbon fiber used throughout the i3 makes extensive use of recycled material, which accounts for 25 percent of the interior.
Daniel Schaefer, head of production for the i subbrand, said the i3 requires only a third of the body panels needed for a steel-bodied car because "using plastics, we can incorporate a lot into a part."
He added: "If you look at just the side frame, we have an inner and an outer part. In a steel panel there would be 10 to 15 parts. With carbon fiber, we have the capability to integrate functions."
Schaefer said manufacturing the i3 requires half the floor space, half the energy and 70 percent less water compared with what's needed to make a standard car. He said it takes 10 hours to assemble the car, half the time needed for a 3-series sedan, because "the carbon fiber body saves a lot of complexity."
"The key advantage is that some of the conventional steps are not required -- no paint or body shop," he said.
The painted carbon fiber sheets are glued together and shaped into pieces. They are light enough for robots to move to the assembly line, eliminating the need for a conveyor belt.
BMW uses carbon fiber only for the roof of both its high-performance M3 and M6 cars. But Schaefer said i3 technology can be applied to future vehicles.
"The holistic sustainable approach that we have taken with this car can be integrated into other cars," he said. "A car with reinforced plastics will be seen on other BMW models."