BMW R&D chief sees rising demand for diverse, multifunctional powertrains

Electrification will come but the speed of adoption will vary greatly. That is why BMW r&d boss Klaus Froehlich believes that future vehicle architectures will need to be flexible enough to rapidly adapt to tougher global emissions rules as well as changing customer tastes. He shared his thoughts on this and more with Automotive News Europe Associate Publisher and Editor Luca Ciferri during multiple conversations this year.

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Except for the full-electric i3, BMW only uses flexible architectures that can accommodate internal combustion, plug-in hybrid and battery-electric powertrains. Was this the right call?
A flexible architecture is the best solution for the next five to 10 years, but clearly if the world turns fully electric, we will develop dedicated architectures.

How flexible are your architectures?
Ten years ago when we developed the CLAR architecture that debuted in 2015 with the 7 series, we would have needed to add 800 kg to 900 kg of batteries to offer a BEV variant. This would have killed the architecture, not to mention the sheer driving pleasure we aim to offer with every car we make. We had expected that over a decade battery density could increase by 2.5 times. By 2020, we will be close to 2.7 times.

Therefore, in 2021 we will update the CLAR architecture with a new central floor that can house higher density batteries. This will permit our plug-in hybrids to travel 80, 100 to 120 km in full-electric mode as well as allowing us to install a larger fuel tank than we have in our current plug-in hybrids. Using the updated CLAR also will let us offer BEVs [battery-electric vehicles] on the architecture because our forthcoming i4 is basically a battery-powered 3 series.

What is the biggest hurdle to the mass rollout of full-electric vehicles?
BEV cost more because of the raw materials to make the batteries. This won’t change. Prices could eventually increase as demand for these raw materials rises.

What is a BEV’s most critical technical challenge?
Charging. Each cell needs an individual charging cycle to minimize the risk of overheating. This reduces the life and the range of the battery. Too much fast charging could wear out the battery in just two to three years, which would make a customer very unhappy given the high cost to replace a battery pack.

How often should a battery-driven car be fast charged?
Not too often. Ideally it should be every 20 charging cycles.

Why, then, is BMW one of the founding investors in European fast-charging infrastructure builder Ionity?
We had to because in 2017 no one was willing to invest [in a charging infrastructure]. Now the situation is completely changed. Energy providers and oil companies are investing, so the charging infrastructure is coming. That’s good news because this is not our core competence.

What has BMW learned from the customers who are already driving its electrified models?
What we have learned, which is significant because by the end of 2019 we will have 500,000 electrified models on the road, is that customers recharge either at home or the office. Charging elsewhere seldom happens.

What is the global sales outlook for electrified models?
The best assumption is that electrified vehicles will account for 20 percent to 30 percent of worldwide sales by 2030, but with a very diverse global distribution. China’s big east coast cities will become purely electric pretty soon while western China will rely on gasoline engines for the next 15 to 20 years due to a lack of infrastructure.

And for Europe?
In Europe there is reluctance to jump directly to BEVs, so plug-in hybrids are the right solution. They will be used as BEVs during the week and run on gasoline on weekends or long trips. We expect plug-in hybrids to account for up to 25 percent of [European sales], gasoline and diesel will have more than 50 percent and the rest will be BEVs.

How about the U.S.?
Most of the U.S. does not need BEVs. We could offer high-performance plug-in hybrids in the M space, providing a lot of fun to the driver as well as [environmental] credits for us. We see BEVs mainly in the west coast and parts of the east coast, while the rest of the U.S. will continue with conventional gasoline engines.

And the rest of the world?
Russia, the Middle East and Africa are areas where there is no recharging infrastructure at moment.

Will BMW streamline its internal combustion engine offerings?
Regulations on internal combustion engines are accelerating and getting more diverse all over the world. We have to update our engines every year, especially for China. Because this costs a lot of money, we have to streamline our offerings. On the diesel side, production of the 1.5-liter, three-cylinder entry engine will end and the 400-hp, six-cylinder won’t be replaced because it is too expensive and too complicated to build with its four turbos. However, our four- and six-cylinder diesels will remain for at least another 20 years and our gasoline units for at least 30 years.

What about big gasoline engines such as the V-8 and V-12?
The V-12 may not have a future given that we only produce a few thousand units each year and the several thousand euros of added cost it takes to make them compliant with stricter emissions rules. When it comes to the V-8, it’s already difficult to create a strong business case to keep it alive given that we have a six-cylinder high-powered plug-in hybrid unit that delivers 441 kilowatts (600 hp) of power and enough torque to destroy many transmissions.

What is the future for fuel cells?
A fuel cell is a BEV without a battery but a fast charger that is called a fuel cell and a 700-bar hydrogen tank somewhere in the car. We develop fuel cells with Toyota and will begin pilot production of the second generation of these models at the beginning of the next decade on the X6 and X7.

Is the cost still prohibitive?
Right now a fuel cell powertrain costs about 10 times more than a BEV’s system. We plan to have those costs equalized by 2025 with the third generation of our scalable fuel cell system, which could result in volumes in the hundreds of thousands.

Are higher volume fuel cell passenger cars about six years away?
I think that the future developments of battery cells could make them the most suitable solution for passenger cars by 2025. We foresee fuel cells as a viable solution for light- and heavy-duty trucks, which are facing very tough CO2 reduction targets and already use very efficient diesels, so the next step could only be electrification. But you cannot electrify a heavy truck with batteries, because reducing the payload from 6 tons to 7 tons is absolute nonsense. With a single recharging station, you can refuel a fleet of 100 hydrogen-powered light trucks overnight. About 200 highway refueling stations could serve thousands of heavy trucks across Europe, which means that on the infrastructure side, this is feasible.

Source: Automotive News Europe,