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With the Megacity Vehicle project and related investment, BMW Group underlines its commitment to the use of composite materials, including carbon fibre, and signals a break with traditional approaches to automotive production.
Last July, the BMW Group (Bayerische Motoren Werke) announced that the Megacity Vehicle (MCV) was due on the market in 2013 under a BMW sub-brand. This revolutionary automobile will be the world’s first mass-produced vehicle with a passenger cell made from carbon. BMW’s LifeDrive architecture is helping them open up a new chapter in lightweight automotive design.
A new concept for a new vehicle
The electrification of a vehicle requires new concepts in vehicle architecture and body construction in order to exploit the potential of the new emission-free drive system to optimum effect. With the innovative LifeDrive concept, the BMW Group engineers are developing the car’s architecture from scratch and adapting it to the demands and conditions of future mobility. The goal is to offset the additional weight of an electric vehicle – typically 250 to 350 kilograms. To this end, the BMW Group is focusing on the innovative high-tech material, carbon-fibrereinforced plastic (CFRP). The LifeDrive concept consists of two horizontally separated, independent modules. The Drive module integrates the battery, drive system and structural and crash functions into a single construction within the chassis. Its partner, the Life module, consists primarily of a high-strength, extremely lightweight passenger cell made from CFRP. CFRP offers many advantages over steel: while it is at least as strong as steel, it is also around 50% lighter. Aluminium, by contrast, would save “only” 30% weight over steel. This makes CFRP the lightest material that can be used in body construction without compromising safety. Furthermore, the new vehicle architecture opens the door to totally new production processes which are both simpler and more flexible, and use less energy. The MCV’s new architecture also gives vehicle designers additional freedom when it comes to creating new aesthetics for sustainable urban mobility solutions.
Investment to match the stakes
To run this ambitious project, the BMW Group is developing its plant in Leipzig to produce the electric vehicle and making additional investments in a number of facilities in Bavaria. The Group will build the car of the future in Leipzig with high-tech innovations from the region. BMW has a tried and tested production network there, and high levels of education and outstanding skills at its disposal. With the decision to produce in Leizpig, Landhsut and Wackersdorf, the BMW Group is preparing for series production of the Megacity Vehicle.
As part of this innovative programme, BMW Group established a joint venture with SGL Group in October 2009 to cooperate for the production of carbon fibres and textile semi-finished products (CFRP) for new vehicle concepts. The two groups have cooperated for many years in the area of carbon-fibre composites. The total investment volume is €90 million for the first development phase. The joint venture operates through two companies, one based in the USA (SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC) and the other in Germany (SGL Automotive Fibers GmbH & Co KG). SGL Group holds 51% of the shares and the BMW Group, 49%. This joint venture is designed to be a classic win-win situation. BMW is acquiring pioneering future technologies and raw materials needed for the Megacity Vehicle on competitive terms. The SGL Group is moving into the automobile business with BMW as a strong partner.
A new carbon-fibre plant for the Megacity Vehicle
SGL Group and BMW Group jointly announced in April that their joint venture, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC, will build a carbon-fibre manufacturing plant in Moses Lake, WA. This new plant will be the world’s most cost-efficient carbon-fibre plant using state-of-the-art technologies. During the initial phase, US$100 million will be invested and 80 local jobs will be created.
The new facility is an important element of both companies’ strategy to commercialize viable manufacturing of ultra-lightweight carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) for use in future vehicle concepts. The fibres manufactured at Moses Lake will be used exclusively for the upcoming Megacity Vehicle. The production of CFRP involves several work stages. The raw material needed to manufacture carbon fibres, a polyacrylonitrile (PAN) based precursor, will be produced by a joint venture between SGL Group and the Japanese company Mitsubishi Rayon (MRC) in Otake, Japan. In the next step, the facility in Moses Lake will convert the polyacrylic fibres into the actual carbon fibres. These fibres will then be processed into lightweight carbon-fibre fabrics at a second joint venture site in Wackersdorf, Germany. The CFRP parts and components will be made from these fabrics at the BMW Group Plant Landshut, Germany. The assembly of the Megacity Vehicle will take place at the BMW Group plant in Leipzig, Germany, where a range of BMW 1 Series and the BMW X1 are currently being built.
With this new car, the Group will be providing an innovative solution for sustainable mobility in urban environments. In the Megacity Vehicle, the high-strength yet ultra-light material will make up a significant proportion of the materials used. The combination of the advanced CFRP fibres developed by the SGL Group and BMW Group's expertise in the industrial manufacture of CFRP components is making it possible, for the first time, to install CFRP on a large scale in a series vehicle at a competitive cost.