Exclusive: BMW X5 with Carbon Fiber Unibody

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At the recent Innovation Days Mobility event, BMW unveiled their future plans in becoming the world’s leader in volume-produced cars with an electric drive and …

At the recent Innovation Days Mobility event, BMW unveiled their future plans in becoming the world’s leader in volume-produced cars with an electric drive and with a passenger cell made from carbon.

CFRP, a recent buzzword introduced by BMW, short for carbon fiber reinforced-plastic, plays an essential role in weight savings for all upcoming Megacity vehicles. CFRP is approximately 50% lighter and at least as strong as steel, making the CFRP the lightest material that can be used in body construction of a vehicle without comprising safety.

Furthermore, CFRP has remarkably good energy-absorbing capabilities, making it very damage-tolerant and it also remains stable under all climatic conditions, two important factors in the decision of using carbon fiber in future vehicles.

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BMW’s work in the carbon fiber production processes began nearly ten years ago and in 2003, BMW introduced a new-generation CFRP that makes body components production very cost efficeint and at a high quality standard.

Around the same time, BMW began experimenting with CFRP on some of their existing mass-production vehicles, and one of them to receive the “carbon fiber treatment” was the first generation BMW X5.

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The BMW X5 4.6is features a unibody made out of CFRP. By using carbon fiber in the frame structure, BMW reduced the number of parts used in the X5. To furthermore reduce the overall weight, the on-off X5 comes with a CFRP-made hood, roof and rear hatch.

According to BMW, only the doors remain made out of steel.

Most of the savings are in the body structure and quoting a BMW specialist, the structure of the X5 is half of the weight of a regular first generation X5 model. The overall weight saving is 200 kilograms or 440 pounds.

The BMW X5 with carbon fiber parts has never been shown to the public before and it has been driven for 40,000 kilometers as part of a testing and development program in the carbon-fiber engineering efforts.

35 responses to “Exclusive: BMW X5 with Carbon Fiber Unibody”

  1. Doug says:

    Wow. A full carbon fiber body?

    You know what frustrates the F* out of me? Detroit did this project about 15 years ago to produce a manufacturing process and prototype carbon unibody, but decided that the expense of retooling from steel pressing wasn’t worth it in the long run. What short-sighted morons. Shoot them on sight.

  2. Doug says:

    Also… previous reports were of BMW pursuing carbon fiber-reinforced steel. I imagined fiber mesh embedded in steel as part of the pressing process. Is this still being explored?

  3. I”m looking forward to the next 10 years when BMW and other manufacturers are able to reduce the overall cost of carbon fiber production and it becomes more widely used on regular production vehicles, not just high-end sports cars.

  4. Jon says:

    I’m glad to see CF getting closer to being used in production vehicles. I must say that I was expecting savings of more that 400lbs. I was expecting 1000lbs+. Maybe we can attribute that to CF production still being in the very early development stages.

  5. Michael says:

    Yeah, OK, BMW is right, but what happens after you crash? How much money would you need to fix it?

    • edmondo says:

      Apparently it can’t be fixed…. This is the reason (supposedly) why Ferrari will not use it on its regular cars.
      Am I wrong?

      • Jon says:

        They could probably fix minor damage like cracks by patching it with more CF and epoxy, just like repairing a boat. They could also make the crash zone modular so that you just unbolt the damaged sections and replace them.
        For serious damage, modern steel cars are often written off due to the high cost and the fact that nobody wants a bent/repaired body frame as it’s hard to get the crash worthiness back to OEM.

  6. A modular crash zone for a carbon fiber frame is a must, imagine if you get hit, something still pullable / fixable with a steel frame, now you have to buy a NEW carbon fiber frame from BMW and swap everything!?!? OUCH! Yes, I agree with the previous poster a carbon fiber frame is a must, cool looking carbon fiber hood and carbon fiber hatch!

  7. X5SoB says:

    Just what is the difference between woven carbon fiber composite and carbon fiber reinforced plastic? Is CFRP cheaper than woven carbon fiber? Is it heavier? There seems to be a difference between the hood/roof/hatch and the fender/rear quarter. Is some of this woven carbon fiber and the other CFRP? Too many questions, head hurts. BTW, CF means something other than carbon fiber!

    • Doug says:

      A good question. I think they’re both woven carbon mesh, but one is in the usual resin, and the other in plastic. I’d guess that the plastic is much cheaper to produce (no curing in ovens and such). Maybe the plastic would respond to impacts better, allowing the fabric to crumple rather than shatter.

  8. To answer your question X5SoB, CF and CFRP are the same thing, CF = Carbon Fiber and CFRP = Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic. The “reinforced plastic” thing just means they use resin, which all carbon fiber needs so that it isn’t in it’s stiff cloth form. For this frame fairing I think they bake it so that it is super stiff and light weight so it is dry carbon. The Hood and trunk might be wet carbon, like bmw motorcycle carbon fiber fairings.

  9. fiber says:

    Carbon fiber hood for BMW z3? Does anyone know where I can purchase a carbon fiber hood for BMW z3 1997. I search all over the place but i cannot find anything. Or maybe a place where they sell z3 parts and accessories. Thanks

  10. Chris says:

    Repairing damage after an impact is relatively easy. Too bad the training necessary is nearly impossible to quickly implement worldwide. Body shops have a fair amount of experience with fiberglass but carbon is another story.

  11. bmw x5 4.4 says:

    Hi…this post is really worth re-visiting, and I am glad that I was able to find all the info that I was searching for…Thanks…

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