Even people in the market for an economy car could end up driving something home with parts made of carbon fiber in the near future. Currently, the material is prohibiltively expensive for high-volume cars largely because of its slow and expensive manuafacturing process. That might change in the next few years according to carbon fiber manufacturer SGL. Research boss Hubert Hunter says he sees the cost of the material dropping by as much as 70 percent.
SGL supplies BMW with carbon fiber parts for its new i sub-brand that currently includes the i3 sub-compact and i8 sports car. The i3 is currently the least expensive high-volume car to use carbon fiber.
The i3 uses a carbon fiber re-inforced plastic (CFRP) shell and by using relatively few body parts is able to use the expensive material while keeping costs relatively low. Hunter said consolidating parts is a step in the right direction, but not nearly enough to drive the costs of CFRP implementation on a large scale.
Approximately 80 percent of the cost in making carbon fiber parts goes to the production process and 20 percent to actual material costs. Hunter said reducing production costs by 90 percent is a realistic goal that would still leave carbon fiber parts more expensive than alternatives made of aluminum, but that the siplified structures wouldn’t need the same cathodic dip coating other automtive bodies go through before being painted.
GALLERY: 2014 BMW i3
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