未来宝马汽车还会变得更轻。上周，宝马宣布它已经购入西格里碳素集团（SGL Carbon SE）5%的股权。这家公司主要生产碳纤维。这是一种先进的轻量材料，已经用到了波音（Boeing）898梦想客机的身上。这标志着宝马做出了战略性的变革，因为宝马过去一向避免与供应商通过财务关系捆绑在一起，同时说明宝马未来会加大对碳纤维的使用。由于碳纤维的高成本和复杂性，因此宝马对它的使用还比较谨慎，但它未来必然会在宝马汽车上扮演更大的角色。
宝马一直是电动车领域的先行者，只是很少有人注意到这一点。就在通用（GM）和日产（Nissan）大打口水仗，争论谁的电动车更强悍时，宝马已经在对500台Mini Cooper进行路试，它们的后座都被锂离子电池取代了。据说在理想情况下，Mini E的续航里程可达156英里。
宝马的测试还发现了一些有价值的结果。2011年5月，位于加州大学戴维斯分校（at the University of California, Davis）的插电式混合动力汽车与电动汽车研究中心（Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle (PH&EV) Research Center）针对美国Mini E的路试进行一项消费者研究。结果显示，老百姓会根据电动车的功能来调整驾驶习惯；受访者同时表示，Mini E能满足他们90%的日常驾驶需求。另一份英国的研究显示，消费者要想适应纯电动汽车的特点和种种新奇的驾驶要求，比如充电、续航里程、再生制动和低噪音等，只需要短短一星期时间即可适应。
BMW cars will be getting even lighter in the future. Last week, the company announced it has bought a 5% stake in SGL Carbon SE, a company that makes carbon fiber -- the advanced lightweight material used in building the Boeing (BA, Fortune 500) 787 Dreamliner. The purchase represents a change in strategy for BMW, which heretofore has shunned financial ties with suppliers and points to its increased use in future BMWs. But carbon fiber, which is used only sparingly now because of its cost and complexity, is understudying for a larger role.
BMW demonstrated just how large a role at the Los Angeles auto show earlier this month. For starters, it unveiled the i3, a battery-powered car with a carbon fiber body affixed to an aluminum frame that weighs just 80% as much as a typical 3-series. In all-electric mode, the i3 is designed to achieve a range of 80 miles per charge, which should be enough for most uses. For those who feel nervous, a second model will be available with a smaller engine. The i3 is designed as a commuter car and features carriage doors that maximize access to the rear seat. It can wear the BMW blue-and-white spinning propeller with pride: It scoots to 60 miles per hour in less than eight seconds. Models go on sale in 2013; figure on a price around $40,000.
Far more exotic is a carbon fiber sports car, the i8 plug-in hybrid. Performance is eye-popping: The i8 screams to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and is capable of getting to a top speed of 155 mph. More pertinently, the i8 can travel around 20 miles on pure electric power before switching over to gasoline. Another 2+2 like the i3, the i8 concept was equipped with impractical butterfly doors for the show that are unlikely to show up on the production version. It is due to go on sale in 2014, and you can expect to pay in excess of $100,000.
BMW has been an unheralded pioneer in electric cars. While General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) and Nissan have been jousting over bagging rights, BMW has been field-testing 500 Mini Coopers whose back seats have been replaced by a pack of lithium ion batteries. Under idea conditions, the Mini E is said to be capable of a range of 156 miles.
The tests have produced some valuable findings. In May 2011 the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle (PH&EV) Research Center at the University of California, Davis published the results of a consumer study of the U.S. Mini E field trial. The study showed that households adapted their driving around the capabilities of the electric car, and respondents said the Mini E met 90% of their daily driving needs. Another study in the U.K. found that one week was all that was needed for customers to adapt to the characteristics and peculiarities of driving an EV, such as charging, range, regenerative braking, and low noise.
Whether or not a car like the Mini E ever makes it into production, BMW clearly has its eye on the future -- and is developing a coherent storyline about how to get there. It has found that its highly-focused reputation for producing driving machines, which many analysts believed would be a drag, is actually turning out to be an asset in getting ready for the post-oil 21st century.