BMW to Roll on Carbon-Fiber Wheels; First Up: i3 and i8

BMW to Roll on Carbon-Fiber Wheels; First Up: i3 and i8

With the advent of the electrically powered i3 and the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, BMW has rediscovered lightweight technology. For the structure and body panels of both vehicles, BMW is making liberal use of carbon-fiber reinforced composite materials. The high-tech approach serves multiple purposes: It offsets some of the massive weight of the battery system of these vehicles; it serves as a testing ground for larger-scale application in other BMW models; and it’s a perfect marketing tool to endear skeptical car enthusiasts to electrics.

The coolness factor will only rise when another innovation comes to market: Carbon-fiber wheels. Such wheels have been used by tuners and on motorcycles, but up to now, carmakers have shied away from the technology. Michael Taylor reports in Auto Express that BMW is working on a new wheel with aluminum spokes and a carbon-fiber center rim.

BMW is apparently unfazed by concerns about the safety of carbon-fiber wheels. “They are very damage-resistant,” BMW engineer Franz Storkenmaier says. The weight savings with the hybrid aluminum/carbon-fiber wheel are expected to hover around 25 percent, while a wheel completely constructed of carbon fiber weighs roughly 35 percent less than an aluminum wheel.

First Drive: 2013 BMW i3
Official Photos: 2015 BMW i8
Official Photos: Lamborghini Veneno Roadster

Even though the actual weight savings may seem tiny, lighter wheels lower the car’s unsprung mass, and that has a very beneficial effect on handling. Nevertheless, the most important argument for the complex and costly technology may be its marketing value. In short, carbon-fiber wheels look cool. Which means it is the perfect wheel for BMW’s funky electric fleet. It could come to market within two years, if approved by government authorities.

About Jens Meiners