Friday, September 20, 2013

BMW Tests Light-Weight Assembly for Electric Cars

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LEIPZIG—BMW AG BMW.XE -1.19%is launching production here on Wednesday of its new Project i cars, the first large-scale test of whether building cars out of carbon fiber and plastic instead of steel can overcome the obstacles to adoption of electric vehicles.

The BMW i-Car project—including the $41,350 all-electric i3 city car, the $135,000 i8 plug-in hybrid sports car and more models in the future—aims to become the first high-volume supplier of the ultralight vehicles. Proponents of the idea say electric cars can be more competitive with internal combustion vehicles if car makers use exotic, lightweight materials, such as carbon fiber reinforced plastic, to reduce the weight the batteries have to propel. Plastic materials also would allow for a radically simplified body assembly system.

All car makers are under pressure from regulators around the world to move toward electric vehicles. In California, New York and several other U.S. states, BMW could face constraints on sales of its most popular models, such as the X5 sport utility or 3-series sedans, unless it starts selling zero emission cars and building up clean air credits.
 
Current electric car batteries, however, are expensive and offer relatively little driving range for the dollar. At a conference on Tuesday outside Detroit, senior battery industry executives said battery costs could be cut in half from current levels by 2020, but even then the total costs for electric car batteries will remain high, and driving ranges low compared with petroleum-fueled engines.
BMW's €400 million ($534 million) Project i factory represents an attempt to reinvent automotive mass production to cope with uncompetitive batteries.
The system starts with a carbon-fiber plastic supplied by a joint venture it formed with carbon fiber producer SGL Group in Moses Lake, Wash.
BMW designed the i3 city car to have about 100 to 120 separate parts in its body structure, compared with about 400 parts in the steel body, called the "body in white." The underbody of an i3 is made by stacking sheets of carbon fiber, then molding and heating them into window pillars, door frames and fenders. The process requires fewer dies and fewer square feet of factory space to house the operations that manufacture them.
 
"This is the real breakthrough," says Daniel Schaefer, who led the design of the production process for BMW's i-Cars during the past five years.
The outer skin of the i3 is made of plastic. To paint those parts, BMW designed a paint shop that generates no wastewater and costs about $50 million, a fifth the normal price tag for a paint system for steel-bodied cars.
One other advantage of carbon fiber and plastic construction: No rust proofing required.
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, Mr. Schaefer says.
Because the carbon fiber bodies are so light, BMW could buy cheaper, lighter robots and conveyors to move them around. Mr. Schaefer demonstrated this point by hoisting the side ring of an i3 from a display in the factory and holding it easily in his hands. It weighs eight kilograms (about 18 pounds).
There is a benefit for workers, too, Mr. Schaefer says. BMW i-Car factory makes hardly any noise. There are no thundering metal stamping presses, no clanking conveyor chains and no sparks flying from welding machines.
Instead, the major pieces of a BMW i3's body are glued together by robots programmed to perform a precise series of moves to put adhesive on the black carbon fiber parts.
The unusual assembly system also will make it easier for BMW to add vehicles of different shapes and sizes, says Project i director Ulrich Kranz. "It's extremely flexible," he says.
BMW executives say its Project i vehicles can be profitable over their lifetime. Analysts and rivals say that depends on including the value of the regulatory credits gained from sales of zero emission cars.
Mr. Schaefer says BMW also plans to transfer know-how from the Leipzig factory to other factories that make conventional cars. He is beginning a new job overseeing key aspects of the production at Leipzig of BMW's internal combustion 1-series and X1 sport utilities.
Rival auto makers are taking different approaches to offsetting the high costs of batteries, for now taking the view that carbon fiber is still too costly for high volume vehicles.
"Everybody has some kind of skunk works project going to come up with the mass reduction they need" to meet tougher fuel efficiency standards, says Ron Harbour, a manufacturing consultant with Oliver Wyman Group in Troy, Mich. The company that figures out how to build lightweight vehicles at a competitive cost "is going to have a huge advantage," he says.
Volkswagen AG, VOW.XE -1.84%Ford Motor Co. F -1.53%and Daimler AG DAI.XE -1.04%are offering electric versions of existing cars—such as the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus or the Smart fortwo. General Motors Co. GM -1.07%has a dedicated plug-in hybrid car in the Chevrolet Volt that it will offer in other forms, including Cadillac and Opel models.
Luxury electric car leader Tesla Motors Inc. TSLA +3.07%so far hasn't moved to large-scale use of carbon fiber. Its Model S has an aluminum body.
But Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has worked to keep his production investments low. Tesla used proceeds from a low cost federal loan to acquire its Fremont, Calif., factory and much of the equipment in it for about $42 million from a closed joint venture between General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp.
 
Summary:
BMW started this month new project (i-cars) which of carbon fiber and plastic instead of steel can overcome the obstacles to adoption of electric vehicles. The BMW i-Car project—including the $41,350 all-electric i3 city car, the $135,000 i8 plug-in hybrid sports car and more models in the future. All car makers are under pressure from regulators around the world to move toward electric vehicles. Current electric car batteries, however, are expensive and offer relatively little driving range for the dollar. Senior battery industry executives said battery costs could be cut in half from current levels by 2020.
The outer skin of the i3 is made of plastic. To paint those parts, BMW designed a paint shop that generates no wastewater and costs about $50 million, a fifth the normal price tag for a paint system for steel-bodied cars. One other advantage of carbon fiber and plastic construction: No rust proofing required. 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, Mr. Schaefer says. BMW executives say its Project i vehicles can be profitable over their lifetime. Analysts and rivals say that depends on including the value of the regulatory credits gained from sales of zero emission cars.
My opinion:
BMW spent $534 million in i-car project which is producing cars work with electricity. How many cities around the world are ready for this type of cars? and what is size of the market for this cars? in fact, small segment who are care for the environment and ready to pay more to save it.
 
whatever, this project is betting on the future not in this days. The electric cars are more expensive than the gas cars, what about the electric luxury cars? To success in this project and the other similar in the car industry, the car producers have to put standards for its parts, like what android phones do for the chargers, software, and screens size. That make the consumers convenient and reduce the cost. 

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