Unlike Audi and Mercedes, who have confirmed pure-electric futures, BMW believes you can't put a date of death on combustion.
As legislative changes prompt investment in the development of electric vehicles, manufacturer after manufacturer has come out with a bold deadline as to when they will kill off their combustion-powered vehicles, leaving only electric cars behind. In the premium segment, Audi and Mercedes have set firm deadlines, but BMW has not been as forthcoming, despite leaping headlong into EV development. Why is this? Well, as it turns out, it's because BMW execs believe you can't prematurely kill off combustion, and by condemning it to death by a certain date, you're cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Speaking to the media at the BMW M Festival in South Africa last week, BMW bosses reiterated the power of choice as being integral to the brand's future. CEO of BMW South Africa, Peter van Binsbergen, was asked during a press conference about the issues facing the adoption of electric vehicles in a country like South Africa, where power supply is a problem. He reiterated that the EV is not a one size fits all solution.
He acknowledged that countries like South Africa are years behind Europe and the US when it comes to EV readiness, not just because of infrastructure but because of a number of issues, including financial constraints and vast distances that need to be traveled. According to van Binsbergen, BMW globally will continue to sell combustion-powered vehicles like the 3 Series in the markets that need them. M cars, however, will become fully electric.
These may not always take on the form of inline-six powerhouses or even turbo four-cylinders, but plug-in hybrids that provide the proverbial best of both worlds. But more than that, van Binsbergen highlighted BMW's iX5 Hydrogen development as an ideal solution for countries where electric cars are not fully viable.
This was reiterated by Timo Resch, vice president of customer, brand, and sales for BMW M. When CarBuzz asked why BMW had chosen to invest in hydrogen development instead of synthetic fuels - the avenue chosen by Porsche, Bentley, Aston Martin, and other manufacturers - Resch said that there are a plethora of options that all fulfill the needs of green mobility and that BMW couldn't investigate them all.
BMW believes hydrogen strikes the best balance for global viability, with the benefits of electric and the convenience of rapid refueling. Resch also agreed that BMW foresees pure hydrogen being easier to harvest in an environmentally-friendly fashion than the refinement process of synthetic fuels.
As a quick recap, synthetic fuels are created by chemically combining carbon from the atmosphere with hydrogen to create a man-made hydrocarbon fuel. These fuels are carbon neutral in the sense that the fuel itself when burned only emits the carbon that was used to synthesize it. But this hinges on the hydrogen harvesting being done in a clean fashion. Hydrogen harvesting is typically energy intensive, and the refinement process adds another layer of energy consumption. You can read more about synthetic fuels here.
However, Resch did say that only BMW's road car division has put its eggs in the baskets of electrification and hydrogen. BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle arm of the brand, believes there is some potential in synthetic fuels.
According to Resch, the problems facing motorcycles are unique. Yes, you can buy an electric motorbike, but it has to have a small battery with a highly limited range, otherwise size and weight become problematic. BMW Motorrad customers are adventure lovers, and the ability to ride vast distances into tricky terrain and come back is imperative to the brand retaining its identity among its loyal followers who use the company's products recreationally. Hybrids are not a viable alternative in this regard either, so synthetic fuels are under investigation here.
But Resch came back to the point that BMW believes in the power of choice and wants to offer its customers options that suit their needs. For so long as BMW customers need a combustion-powered vehicle, BMW will build it.