BMW Has Seen the Future, and It's Carbon

The luxe automaker is betting on lightweight carbon fiber for cars
The passenger frame of BMW’s i3 is fashioned from lightweight carbon fiber Courtesy Auto Motorund Sport, Germany

For many auto brands, a corporate makeover turns on a radical restyling of their cars or a shifting of sales toward emerging markets. But BMW is betting a big part of its future on hundreds of thousands of fine white filaments snaking through a $100 million factory in rural Washington State. Looped through an almost mile-long course, the strands are stretched, toasted, and eventually scorched black to create carbon fiber. The material, which is thinner than human hair yet tougher than steel, is what BMW used to fashion the passenger frame on its i3 electric car, which went on sale on Nov. 16 in Germany and will hit U.S. showrooms in the first half of 2014.

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