Bayerische Motoren Werke’s (BMW) bid to save its cars from potential extinction starts with hundreds of thousands of fine white strands snaking upwards in a production hall in rural Washington. Looped through an almost mile-long course, what looks like the world’s thinnest rice noodles will be stretched, toasted and eventually scorched black to create carbon fibre — a material thinner than human hair and yet tougher than steel. BMW will use the sleek, black filaments for the passenger frame of the i3 electric car, which goes on sale at dealers in Germany on Saturday and around the world in the coming months. It’s the first effort to mass produce a car made largely from carbon fibre and represents the biggest shift in automobile production since at least the 1980s when the first all-aluminum car frames were made. The strategy started taking shape six years ago, as Norbert Reithofer, then the newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer, examined trends affecting the industry and concluded that increased environmental awareness would likely prompt tougher emissions regulations that could make the future of autobahn cruisers like the 5-Series sedan unsustainable.

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