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BMW Launches Into Brave New World of Manufacturing


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BMW AG moves into new manufacturing territory this week as it ramps up to build its lightweight plastic and carbon fiber i3 and i8 electric cars on a large scale, The Wall Street Journal notes.

BMW’s plant in Leipzig, Germany, is building the $41,400 all-electric i3 city car on sale this year and the $135,000 i8 plug-in hybrid sports car due in 2014.

The new BMW i3 electric car has an expensive battery and a costly carbon fiber body, but BMW executives say they will make money on the five-door hatchback because of unusually low-cost manufacturing. BMW designed the i3 city car to have only 100-120 separate parts in its body structure, compared with about 400 parts for a conventional steel architecture.

The body and structural components are made by stacking sheets of carbon fiber, then molding and heating them into window pillars, door frames and fenders. The Journal points out that the process requires fewer dies and fewer square feet of factory space to house the operations that manufacture them. The major pieces of a BMW i3’s body are glued together by robots.

Overall, producing BMW’s i3 and i8 requires about 70% less water and half the electricity used in a regular car factory—which means lower utility bills and a less expensive water treatment system, BMW says.

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