BMW uses carbon fiber in battle with rivals

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BMW uses carbon fiber in battle with rivals

Post  Administrator on Wed Sep 14, 2011 9:08 am

BMW believes it is years ahead of its competitors in producing and incorporating carbon fibre into vehicles, giving it an important edge in the battle to maintain its lead in the German premium car segment.

BMW has been working with carbon fibre, a costly but lightweight material, for several years at its Landshut plant and has a joint venture with SGL Carbon, a German maker of carbon products that owns two carbon fibre factories in Washington state, US and Wackersdorf, Germany.


“I would say we’re at least a few years ahead of our competitors [in carbon fibre],” Norbert Reithofer, BMW’s chief executive, told the Financial Times during an interview at the Frankfurt motor show.

“A few years back, some companies were sceptical and didn’t see the importance of carbon fibre at this point in time. And one of those same companies has now invested in SGL Carbon – so this just further validates our strategy.”

Volkswagen, owner of the Audi brand that competes with BMW, in March purchased an 8 per cent stake in SGL. The €140m ($192m) move was closely observed by Susanne Klatten, SGL’s main shareholder, whose family is also BMW’s anchor investor.

BMW makes extensive use of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic in its electric i3 and hybrid i8 battery-powered vehicles, which it is showing in Frankfurt for the first time.

Britain’s Autocar magazine said the two cars, which will be launched in 2013, had “potentially seismic implications for the way we go about our motoring in the future”.

BMW also gives customers the option to have a carbon roof if they buy an M3, a high-performance vehicle.

“In the current M3 we thought 80 per cent of customers would go for a steel roof and only 20 per cent for the carbon – but it was the other way around. Eighty per cent wanted carbon because it is a high-tech [material],” Mr Reithofer said.

“In the future, we can imagine putting carbon fibre into other cars, but not to the level of the i3 and i8. These are exceptions.”

Mr Reithofer also confirmed a recent report in Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, that BMW has held initial talks about co-operating with General Motors.

“There have been talks with General Motors, but not at the executive board level. So it’s far too early to say more about it,” he said.

Mr Reithofer declined to say what technologies BMW and GM were discussing but said: “When one talks to another, it’s usually not just a one-way street.”

He reiterated that BMW was on track to sell more than 1.6m vehicles this year, maintaining its volume lead over Mercedes-Benz and VW’s Audi.

BMW is also by far the most profitable of the three producers, having achieved a 14.4 per cent margin in the first half, compared with 10.7 per cent at Mercedes and 11.8 per cent at Audi.

BMW’s chief executive said the technological changes sweeping the car industry meant that in future, the premium carmaker might face as yet unfamiliar competitors.

“Looking further into the future, regarding electromobility technology, we might need to have not only our traditional competitors on our radar,” he said. “There could be competitors that we currently don’t know about – a start-up, for example.”

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