Two officials from SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, the carbon fiber manufacturing joint venture of the SGL Group (Wiesbaden, Germany) and the BMW Group (Munich, Germany), sat down with CompositesWorld at the JEC Composites show in Paris last week and provided additional details regarding the new carbon fiber plant the company announced for Washington state and the BMW Megacity Vehicle that will use that carbon fiber.
Adreas Wüllner and Jörg Pohlman, both managing directors, confirmed that the new carbon fiber facility announced for Moses Lake, Wash., will be built on 60 acres with initial capacity of 3,000 metric tons per year of 50k standard tow carbon fiber coming off of two lines (1,500 metric tons each). Both officials noted that 60 acres allow much room for expansion and hinted additional lines likely will be added as demand increases. "All partners have committed to a growth pattern so that if the car is successful, we can increase capacity quickly," said Wüllner.
Initial speculation has suggested that the Megacity Vehicle will be based on the BMW Mini design, but Wüllner and Pohlman said this was not the case. BMW did build several all-electric developmental versions of the Mini for customer and market testing, but the Megacity Vehicle will be a different all-electric, purpose-designed car made specifically to incorporate a carbon fiber chassis, as well as other carbon fiber parts.
The biggest question about the Megacity Vehicle surrounds manufacture of the carbon fiber chassis. BMW, said Wüllner and Pohlman, has developed an RTM (resin transfer molding)-based, non-autoclave process that allows it to quickly manufacture structures from noncrimp carbon fiber fabrics. The details of this process were not revealed, but it appears that BMW has cleared the manufacturing cycle time barrier that for so long has prevented use of carbon fiber in chassis members of production automobiles. "Had BMW not found a solution," said Wüllner, "this joint venture would not be possible."
Price point of the Megacity Vehicle, both men said, is unknown, primarily because of the immaturity of the electric car market. Even by 2020, they said, the market share for all-electric vehicles will only be about 5 to 15 percent, so although the electric market is growing quickly, it does not appear set to rapidly overtake traditional combustion vehicles. The question for now, they said, is this: What premium will customers pay for a carbon fiber chassis vehicle vs. a traditional steel chassis vehicle? Wüllner suggested that carmakers may evolve to the point of offering vehicles with chassis made either of steel or carbon fiber, with the latter more expensive, but lighter and thus more efficient and less polluting. The Megacity Vehicle is currently scheduled for market introduction "sometime in the first half of this decade."
SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers hopes to make more design and manufacturing information available by the end of the year.