BMW/SGL outlines future

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MOSES LAKE - The plant manager of BMW/SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers' Moses Lake plant aims to match production of the world's carbon fiber market.

The new Moses Lake location began production last week.

The plant produced its first carbon fiber and sent it to Germany for qualification, said Steve Swanson, the plant manager, on Thursday.

The carbon fiber is to be used in the BMW's future MegaCity Vehicle, the i3, and the i8, "a full hybrid sports car," he explained.

Testing is now underway for both cars. Both electric vehicles are launched in 2013.

Swanson provided an overview of the company, with details about its upcoming cars to 107 people attending the Grant County Economic Development Council's luncheon.

The world market produces 35,000 metric tons of carbon fiber.

The Moses Lake plant has room for growth, with an option for 60 acres of additional land next door, which means added production.

"We can put another eight carbon lines on that 60 acres, close to 30,000 tons," he said in part. "Our intent is to match the world market. That's very close to matching the world market. I can tell you, that's our intent, to get to that point."

The company expects to see "some huge future growth in this market" and will have around 80 employees once both carbon fiber lines are installed.

The plant's initial capacity is 3,000 metric tons. Right away, the plant makes 10 percent of the world market, he explained.

The plant is in qualification now for serious production for the third quarter of 2011.

Carbon fiber is used heavily in aerospace.

Use grew from 10 percent in 1980s commercial aircraft, to 70 percent in the Boeing 787 and the Airbus 8350.

"Why would we think the same doesn't happen in automotive?" Swanson asked. "Of course it will. Carbon fiber is very strong, light, corrosion-resistant, does not show fatigue and just outlasts any type of metal."

The company recycles as much as it can and has the technology to recycle its material and put it back into parts.

"No one else has this technology," Swanson said. "BMW developed it and it's definitely a big part of our business."

Swanson also talked about how the BMW's Mini Cooper was a building block for the i3.

He is amazed at how the i3 handles and the amount of power it has.

The market for the i3 is heavily dense, populated areas, such as the large cities in Europe, the U.S. and China.

The average speed limit in Tokyo is 6 mph, as you're in a parking lot most of the time, he said.

He expects there will be a huge market for the i3 in Japan and Europe, as the average commute is 43 miles.

"It's really just a building block for the MegaCity Vehicle," he commented.

He estimates the i8 will retail for $150,000 and compete with the Audi R8, Ferrari and some of the super cars.

BMW/SGL chose Grant County because of reasonable energy costs, no power outages, 100 percent hydropower, no language barriers, business-friendly environment, dry, desert-like climate and low risk of natural disasters.

"Terry Brewer did an excellent job in the early days bringing this business in," Swanson commented about the Grant EDC's executive director.

Swanson said how pleased the company has been with the Moses Lake plant employees.

The majority came from the Moses Lake area.

He called them "intelligent, hard-working and they want to do all the right things."

The company employs engineers, testing and development experts, administrative professionals, and many production employees.

"It is definitely a skilled job. There is a lot to learn out there. This is not just a manual labor job," he says.

The process is automated and ran with computers.

He commented how the Moss Lake workers picked the skills up so quickly. They did much better here than where he came from in the Salt Lake area.

Swanson said they've worked with Big Bend Community College to complete a lot of their training.

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