BMW Takes A Unique Approach To Electric Cars


While other automakers build special dedicated EV platforms, BMW feels more flexibility is preferable.

As automakers race to meet rising fleet-wide passenger vehicle emissions requirements in Europe, many - including Ford, Daimler, and Volkswagen - are turning to dedicated battery-electric vehicle platforms for their newest pure-electric offerings. Such platforms can be optimized specifically for battery-electric powertrains, in theory leading to more competent, efficient EVs.

But rival automaker BMW is taking a different tack, with plans to build its upcoming battery-electric vehicles on flexible internal combustion-friendly architectures for the foreseeable future. This strategy will yield a significant selling point, BMW figures: a range of internal combustion and electrified powertrain options for many of its popular model lines.

2019-2020 BMW i8 Coupe Front Angle View BMW 2019-2020 BMW i8 Coupe Side View BMW 2019-2020 BMW i8 Coupe Front View Driving BMW WILFRIED WULFF
2019-2020 BMW i8 Coupe Front Angle View
2019-2020 BMW i8 Coupe Side View
2019-2020 BMW i8 Coupe Front View Driving

But that reluctance with regard to launching a dedicated electric-only platform is partly motivated by market concerns, too.

BMW acknowledges the key role that battery-electric vehicles will play in the company's future, especially as Europe ramps up its passenger vehicle emissions limits, requiring automakers to nearly halve their fleet emissions by 2030. But future demand is still tricky to predict, and the mix of battery-electric vs. hybrid vs. gas-only vehicles that BMW might hope to sell is unknown, especially as numerous automakers pile into the pure-electric vehicle market seemingly all at once.

"In our view, market forecasts are too uncertain to warrant inflexible, electro-only platforms," the company's Udo Hanle told Automotive News Europe recently. "What we don't want is for our plants to operate below capacity."

Tom Kirkpatrick TOM KIRKPATRICK 2020 BMW 7 Series Hybrid Charge Port BMW
2020 BMW 7 Series Hybrid Charge Port

In addition, there's the matter of capital outlay. "Building a new plant" to produce a pure-electric vehicle on a dedicated platform "would cost roughly €1 billion, whereas ramping up existing facilities... will amount to a three-digit-million investment, mainly for body shop and assembly," Hanle says.

In theory, that might mean compromising to make pure-electric vehicles work on platforms not designed with that sort of powertrain in mind, perhaps leading to trade-offs like limited range or poorly packaged EVs. But the automaker doesn't feel that's necessarily the case so long as vehicles are planned well in advance.

"We are not going to compromise on anything that will impact the customer," Hanle says.

The BMW i3 and i8, both of which were built on an expensive, advanced new Life-Drive platform, taught BMW a valuable lesson about dedicated EV architectures. Those models will stay in a league of their own - at least for the time being - as even the i sub-brand's next car, the BMW i4, will be built on the company's modular Cluster Architecture.

2020 BMW X3 Hybrid Front View Driving Wilfried Wulff BMW
2020 BMW X3 Hybrid Front View Driving
Source Credits: Automotive News Europe

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