The use of carbon fibre composites in cars is gaining momentum as both BMW and Mercedes Benz further plans to use the material in their vehicles.

BMW announced a joint venture with German carbon fibre producer SGL last November and in April it revealed details of a US$100 million joint venture carbon fibre plant in Washington, USA. At the end of April, Daimler announced a development agreement with Japanese carbon fibre producer Toray.

Daimler says it wants to start using the carbon fibre composite parts developed in its Mercedes Benz series production models within the next three years. BMW will use the carbon fibre produced at the US plant its Megacity Vehicle, its first series production electric car, scheduled for launch in 2013.

Both BMW and Daimler see themselves as leaders in automotive technology and in the development of 'sustainable mobility.’ Both companies’ strategies include innovations in lightweight materials and other areas to reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, and in the longer term, hybrid drive train solutions and electric vehicles. BMW is currently road testing more than 600 MINI E cars to gain insights into the everyday use of electric cars. The findings will be analysed by ‘project i’, whose assignments include the development of new mobility concepts for urban driving, including the Megacity Vehicle.

Carbon fibre is now firmly placed in each company’s lightweight construction strategy. According to Daimler’s figures, the weight of a car accounts for some 23% of its fuel consumption in urban driving. If the development team is able to make a weight saving of 100 kg when designing a new car, 0.3-0.6 litres of fuel can be saved per 100 km of urban driving (depending on the vehicle model and driving style). This corresponds to a reduction in CO2 emissions of 7.5-12.5 g/km.

Offering equivalent strength, components made from carbon composite weigh up to 50% less than comparable steel components and are some 30% lighter than aluminium components.