BMW takes center stage in Munich | Guest Column

There is a new look to Bavarian tourism these days.

There is a new look to Bavarian tourism these days.

In the past, tourists flocked to Munich’s city square like Seattle’s New Year’s revelers at the Space Needle.

They came to see the ancient Glockenspiel, a giant cuckoo clock on the city hall tower, and then dash to the nearby famed Hofbrauhaus for beer, brats and Bavarian music.

Now the Glockenspiel has some real competition. It is BMW World, a mammoth, ultramodern, high tech new car showroom adjacent to the 1972 Olympic Stadium.

It is so large that prospective buyers can take a “Beamer” for a test spin without leaving the building.

And Washington state is playing a key role in BMW’s success.

Opened in 2007, the BMW World showroom saw nearly three million visitors last year alone, and people from all over come to take their new BMW home.

But the story behind BMW World is not about tourism; it is about showcasing the company’s technology.

BMWs are pricey, ranging from $30,000 to $105,000.

Known for cutting edge technology, one of its new innovations is using carbon fiber to replace the metal on the outer layers of its cars.

Why carbon fiber? It helps car manufacturers reduce the weight to meet tougher auto emission and mileage standards.

Using carbon fiber is especially important as car makers attempt to extend the range of electric autos and for hybrids needing to add more miles per gallon.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory determined that trimming a car’s weight by 10 percent improves mileage by 7 percent.

That means when carbon fiber becomes affordable, its use will spread through three diverse auto categories: sports cars perpetually hungry for weight savings, hybrids and electric vehicles burdened with heavy batteries.

Mass-produced models will need this technology to meet the 54.5-mpg U.S. mileage standard by 2025.

Carbon fiber has been around for a long time. It is used in race cars, but it is very expensive. Even though the virtues of carbon fiber are well known, at more than $10 per pound — when combined with epoxy resin — it’s still too expensive for cars we drive every day.

A primary reason for the high cost is manufacturing carbon fiber requires vast amounts of electricity.

Low-cost electricity is a problem for German manufacturers which, on average, pay 32 cents per kilowatt hour in their homeland.

That’s why BMW looked to Moses Lake, where Grant PUD supplies large loads of some of the world’s lowest cost electricity at 2.8 cents per kilowatt hour from its two dams on the Columbia River.

SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, a joint venture of BMW and the SGL Group, is increasing its production in Washington and is investing an additional $200 million in a new plant in Moses Lake to produce 9,000 metric tons per year.

Contrast that with Toray Composites America in Frederickson, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Toray Industries. Toray is the primary carbon fiber supplier to Boeing’s Dreamliner 787 and is the largest global producer of carbon fiber with a capacity of about 33,000 tons per year.

The good news is, with Boeing and BMW moving to light-weight carbon fiber, Washington, with its low-cost hydropower, may become the carbon fiber capitol of the world.

So while Moses Lake’s carbon fiber plant may not attract tourists like BMW World in Munich, it is vital to our state’s economy and the creation of family-wage jobs.

For Washington, it is crucial that our elected officials ensure that we can continue to provide households, business and manufacturers with an abundant supply of low-cost electricity.

That will keep customers from around the globe — and the jobs they create — coming to Washington state.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is formerly president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization. He can be contacted at