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i3 - BMW And The Transformation Of Society

Wednesday July 31, 2013 13:51

Editor's Note: The demand for new gadgets like smartphones, tablet computers and even electric cars is generating a lot of interest in the tech metals industry. This relatively new group of metals and minerals is a combination of precious metals and rare earth elements. Kitco News sees the need for reliable information about this growing commodities sector. For this reason Kitco has partnered up with Bodo Albrecht an independent analyst with 20 years of experience in the precious metals industry. Stay tuned for this weekly new feature on kitco.com! Tech Metals Insider - one more reason to come to world's premier gold site.

Sustainability and eco-friendliness aren’t necessarily the first words that come to the minds of many when thinking about BMW, famous maker of “the ultimate driving machine.”

Driven largely by the values of some of the company’s biggest shareholders, BMW entered a path of sustainability many years ago; the company’s efforts are beginning to show in a big way and are impacting the technical metals industry, as seen in their latest reaction.

On July 29, BMW simultaneously launched its new i3 electric vehicle (EV) in three cities around the world: New York, London and Beijing.

The importance of this event goes way beyond the launch of a new car. In fact, the i3 as such may not be quite as significant as what it stands for, or how it was produced. Its launch is of great significance to the materials industry, technology metals included. Here is why.

Bottom line, the BMW i3 is tech metal paradise. Remember the items of interest are:

  • LED lights using tech metals as semiconductors;
  • Electric motors because of their permanent magnets;
  • Flat screens where specialty metals are used in conductive coatings as well as LEDs, and for which precious metals are used to produce the glass;
  • Electronic components using transistors in their circuitry, and precious metals in their wiring;

And of course the vehicle’s battery materials.

The latest electric vehicle introduced by BMW, the i3.

However, since everyone is curious, let’s cover the car first. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I won’t comment, other than to say people may need time to get used to it.

What’s new is the use of carbon fiber and carbon fiber reinforced materials throughout, allowing not only for significant weight reduction and production cost savings. The vehicle also uses new fabrics and materials never seen in mass produced cars before. The roof, for instance, incorporates material from recycled PET bottles; on the inside, depending on the option package chosen, renewable and naturally processed materials like wood, wool and leather await.

According to Adrian van Hooydonk, Global Head of BMW Group Design, the car was designed to last “a very long time”, although the battery pack will need to be replaced after about 1,000 charging cycles. This translates into approximately eight years of use based on the company’s experience.

The appearance of the i3 could have a significant impact on the EV industry as it could appeal to a larger group of consumers; however its target is the premium price segment. Currently the U.S. EV market is focused in California and outside of the state the sector is still small, a hindrance to the proliferation of electric cars.

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City has a proclaimed legacy of turning the “Big Apple” into the “greenest city on earth”. He went on record by committing to equip 20% of the city’s parking spaces with EV chargers within the next seven years. Ludwig Willisch, President of BMW of North America, quoted a study estimating the number of electric cars on U.S. roads to increase to 850,000 over the next 5 years (today: approximately 100,000).

Getting back to the detail of the i3 - along with its main electric engine, the vehicle has quite a few electric motors working in various areas, like in many other modern cars. It also has two LED screens in the dashboard and 100% LED lighting all around.

Which metals were used exactly to build this car isn’t easy to tell, unfortunately. Besides gallium, as the usual suspect, components vary in composition.

The experts present at the unveiling didn’t know in detail the quantity of tech metals used in the vehicle. However, I will dedicate one of my next issues to explaining which metal is likely to be found where. Of course there is a large Lithium Ion battery on board which is also worthy of an entire article.

Stage 2 of BMW’s philosophy, and perhaps the real reason why this date may make history is that sustainability and a low carbon footprint are extended through the production of the car itself. The plant in Leipzig, Germany, where the i3 is made operates at a 70% lower water and 50% reduced electricity consumption. 100% of this electricity is generated by wind power.

Similar standards apply to the U.S. plant of BMW’s carbon fiber manufacturer in Moses Lake, Washington, where they use water power to generate electricity.

Since wind and water are most powerful at night the buildings are equipped to efficiently store the energy; electric motors are then used to the extent possible to utilize the energy. This is likely complemented by energy saving lights or LEDs throughout the building. After just calling the i3 “tech metal paradise” I am lacking a suitable superlative for such a building.

Norbert Reithofer

I had an opportunity to ask Daniel Schaefer, Head of Manufacturing Concept BMW i, about the strategic relevance of tech metals to the company: “At this point we are not concerned about shortages [of technology metals] but we are monitoring the situation intently”.

So when Dr. Norbert Reithofer, CEO of BMW AG (pictured) states that to BMW “sustainable mobility” really means “the transformation of society” then this is what he is talking about. “Consumer values are changing”, adds Ian Robertson via live connection from London. If he is right then the concept will be unstoppable. It will in fact start a new era. The best part about it? We can still drive fun cars; we just won’t have to feel guilty about it.


By Bodo Albrecht

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in precious metal products, commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.
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