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Southfield, Michigan, Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Ever since chemists invented carbon fiber half a century ago, automakers have been eager to use the stiff, durable, ultra-light -- but expensive -- material as a substitute for steel.



The economics are finally looking favorable for cars, not just rockets, airplanes and tennis rackets.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG has been studying the feasibility of equipping one of its car models with 200 pounds of carbon components, including several major body parts, which would reduce the vehicle's weight by 800 pounds.

If BMW goes ahead with the project, slated tentatively for 2005, more manufacturers could be tempted to match the German automaker with their own premium models.

Carbon fiber's cost has dropped more than 90 percent over the past three decades to $8 a pound or less compared to about 15 cents a pound for steel, making it increasingly attractive to designers and engineers.

Many race-car bodies are built with carbon fiber. Now a number of cars available to consumers, like the new Dodge Viper and Nissan 350Z, come with a few carbon fiber components. The 350Z's carbon fiber drive shaft, for example, weighs 17.6 pounds, compared with a steel shaft that would have weighed 30.8 pounds.

Fuel Efficiency

Large weight reduction means vehicle models could be far more fuel efficient or powerful than conventional, heavier competitors. The question is whether the extra cost can be recovered by premium pricing, which might be justified by fuel savings or stellar performance.

Presumably BMW intends to increase the power-to-weight ratio, which improves speed and acceleration rather than fuel economy, though the automaker isn't elaborating or providing details about its project.

``With many of these high fuel consumption cars, it's always appeared that this would be the next logical step,'' said David Carlson of the Concord, New Hampshire, money management firm of DL Carlson Investments.

Carlson said he had heard that BMW has conducted crash tests of prototypes to test how carbon fiber will behave in an accident and whether it can pass regulatory muster. If his report is correct -- the automaker isn't saying -- it suggests BMW indeed is serious about proceeding with volume production.

DL Carlson, with $340 million of assets, owns 246,700 shares or 1.5 percent of Zoltek Cos. Inc., a St. Louis, Missouri-based maker of carbon fiber. On Feb. 15, 2001, Zoltek announced a partnership with BMW to develop ``lightweight but superstrong car bodies, panels and other parts'' of carbon fiber.

Cost Goal

At the time of the announcement BMW project leader Torsten Flemming said the automaker ``could go into production with carbon fiber car bodies within five years.''

Zoltek, one of about half a dozen companies worldwide that manufactures the material, is to benefit if BMW goes ahead with full production.

``Our goal is to get the cost down to $3.50 a pound,'' said Zsolt Rumy, 60, chief executive. ``With enough volume, we can get there.''

Zoltek stock has provided a wild ride for Rumy, who owns 35 percent of the company, as well as for other shareholders. From a low of $1.16 per share in early 1993 the stock rose to almost $66 a share in the fall of 1997, before collapsing the following year.

In early April 2002, shares more than doubled to about $5 from about $2 following a company announcement that it was introducing a new carbon fiber fabric at a trade show.

The company hasn't posted a profit since the first quarter of fiscal 1999 and in late 2001 renegotiated its bank debt in order to remove some covenants.

Volatile

Zoltek stock closed on Friday at $2.64 cents a share. Not a single securities analyst follows the company, recognition perhaps of the stock's volatile history and the company's small size, as well as its uncertain prospects of landing a big production contract from BMW or some other automaker.

Rumy, who immigrated from Hungary in 1957 and earned a chemical engineering degree from the University of Minnesota, started Zoltek in 1988.

By Rumy's estimate, Zoltek will sell about three million pounds of carbon fiber by the end of 2002, mostly to companies like BMW that are developing or designing products. Two Zoltek factories, in Abilene, Texas, and in Hungary, are equipped to produce 10 million pounds annually -- if the orders materialize.

``It's not a question of if, but of when,'' said Rumy.

For investors interested in taking a plunge in Zoltek shares, a crystal ball revealing BMW's intentions would help more than a chemical engineering degree to apprehend whether this miraculous material can ever fulfill its promise.

Source http://www.bloomberg.com
 

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TXLeXTC said:
mcclarin and lambo already have production cars with bodies made of CF, bmw is soooo behind
which makes lexus what?

btw, its spelled mclaren, almost every exotic sports car manufacturer has a full cf body. we are talking about production cars here. btw, if bmw is so behind, why is mclaren using bmw motors ? ;)

i know you are fucking around, or at least i hope you are
 

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mrclam said:
TXLeXTC said:
mcclarin and lambo already have production cars with bodies made of CF, bmw is soooo behind
which makes lexus what?

btw, its spelled mclaren, almost every exotic sports car manufacturer has a full cf body. we are talking about production cars here. btw, if bmw is so behind, why is mclaren using bmw motors ? ;)

i know you are fucking around, or at least i hope you are
Yes i was fucking around, but i consider lambo to be a production car company. yes they are exotic, but to me that doesnt mean non production. i was just being a smart ass anyhow.
 

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TXLeXTC said:
mrclam said:
TXLeXTC said:
mcclarin and lambo already have production cars with bodies made of CF, bmw is soooo behind
which makes lexus what?

btw, its spelled mclaren, almost every exotic sports car manufacturer has a full cf body. we are talking about production cars here. btw, if bmw is so behind, why is mclaren using bmw motors ? ;)

i know you are fucking around, or at least i hope you are
Yes i was fucking around, but i consider lambo to be a production car company. yes they are exotic, but to me that doesnt mean non production. i was just being a smart ass anyhow.
ok i meant mass production :)
 

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Aubie83 said:
Damn, thats cool. How would the car stand up in a collision?
Dunno - I'm curious about that too. I don't know if cf would absorb as much energy as steel in a collision - putting occupants at risk. I wonder if they will still make crumple zones out of steel to absorb impact energy... or perhaps sandwich thin aluminum and cf, but that would probably kill some of the weight savings.

I don't know how much energy the hood, fenders and door skins actually absorb in an impact - I'm guessing replacing these companenets would not have that dramatic an effect on safety - but when you start making the front structural members of cf...

...but then again, if I knew for sure I would hope that I'd be making more $$$$ than I am now. And I'd probably be surrounded by some cool concept cars.

-Justin
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Justin.b said:
Aubie83 said:
Damn, thats cool. How would the car stand up in a collision?
Dunno - I'm curious about that too. I don't know if cf would absorb as much energy as steel in a collision - putting occupants at risk. I wonder if they will still make crumple zones out of steel to absorb impact energy... or perhaps sandwich thin aluminum and cf, but that would probably kill some of the weight savings.
-Justin

Yes, that would be more realistic... The BMW M3 CSL is a good example, as it's only some of the car consists of carbonfiber. This is a weigh savings of 400 odd lbs instead of 800 for a full carbon fiber body, but it's still way lighter than steel...It's also more practical given the strict safety standards (which will only get more strict).....
Eric...
 

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Maybe cf skins combined bonded to sheet steel stampings? I'm sure that BMW won't be releasing a crap product, whatever they finally decide on.

Do you think this will first appear on the bigger more expensive models, or on one of the smaller sportier (3 series, Z cars) ones? I'm sure it will be all over all the automotive news when they roll out the first concept cars with this construction.

-Justin
 

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You will have to replace at least some of the unibody steel with CF to shave 800 pounds with CF alone.

I don't think that CF is suitable for replacing things like structural suspension parts - so that's 800 pounds saved on the body itself. I'd guess they'd have to replace the fenders, hood, doorskins, trunklid, roof (?) 1/4 panels and a some of the floor pan to get those savings....

They said the starting point was 1000 pounds, which seems lheavy for just doors and exterior body panels.

-Justin
 

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I've actually seen a tv show (discovery channell I think), where they were showing the construction of an F1 car. The nose piece (CF of course), was put thru "crash" runs by ramming it at full speed into a wall.

As some of you know, an F1 racers legs sit in the nose piece, but engineers designed the CF in such away that once impacted, it would smash away from the occupant.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
mrclam said:
the 800lbs saved isn't a full CF body i don't think. its just from replacing some of the components with cf...
I don't see how they could get 800lbs savings by only replacing some of the panels.... For example, the M3 CSL only 400 odd pounds lighter than a regular M3, plus it doesn't have all those weigh gaining goodies like sunroofs, power seats, etc.... Shouldn't the CSL weight less than it does?
Eric....
 

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TXLeXTC said:
Aubie83 said:
Damn, thats cool. How would the car stand up in a collision?

Well CF is stronger than steel....
CF is not stronger, it's stiffer, and specific strength (per lb) is greater. CF also will not bend or flex, meaning you have to replace an entire panel if you get a dent instead of pulling it back out like you can with a steel body.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
xtremepsi said:
TXLeXTC said:
Aubie83 said:
Damn, thats cool. How would the car stand up in a collision?

Well CF is stronger than steel....
CF is not stronger, it's stiffer, and specific strength (per lb) is greater. CF also will not bend or flex, meaning you have to replace an entire panel if you get a dent instead of pulling it back out like you can with a steel body.
Right.....In other words, it doesn't deform like Steel does which means MUCH more shock is transmitted to the passenger cabin... Ouch
 
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