BMW AG 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.