BMW's Ultimate Electric Driving Machines Are on the Way

The German performance brand has been a low-profile pioneer in the electric vehicle market.
BMW's i8 Roadster plug-in hybrid sports car converts fans to electric drive. (Image source: BMW)

Jan Freimann is BMW's manager of connected e-mobility and Design News had the recent opportunity to ask him about BMW's electric vehicle road map as the brand migrates away from its gasoline-fueled heritage.

DN: BMW is known for building the Ultimate Driving Machine, so the company’s electrification effort might not be as well known. Can you recap BMW’s current EV efforts?

JF: To get a little bit back in the past, we started with i3 here in the US in 2014. Back in the day, we also had like pilot projects like the Mini E and the Active E on the 1-Series. But the real story started with i3; it was on the biggest scale. And the i8 of course, as a plug-in hybrid. Since 2014, when we started, we were first to market, together with Tesla, I guess, as one of the first OEMs in the market with electric cars.

Now in 2019, we have the 7-Series 745e plug-in hybrid with a six-cylinder engine combined with the third-generation BMW electric motor. We have the 530e, which has for the 5-Series plug-in hybrid combines a four-cylinder engine, the B48, with an e-machine integrated into the transmission. This one just got recently an update and battery capacity to 11 kilowatt-hours, gross capacity.

Jan Freimann, BMW manager of connected mobility. (Image source: BMW)

We have the i3 of course which our CEO just announced is continuing to be produced, with no end of production determined right now because we still think that's a very good car. There was a recent battery upgrade to 120 amp-hour batteries and the i3S which is now a more sportive dynamic version of the regular i3 with a slightly increased power to 135 kilowatts and 270 newton meters.

So the i3 is even more fun to drive now, and the i8 and the i8 roadster sports cars we have in our portfolio right now.

DN: What can you tell us about upcoming EVs from BMW?

JF:  Next year, coming in spring, in Q1 or the beginning of Q2, we have the X3 PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). The X3 PHEV is similar to the 530e, so we have a B48 [combustion] engine SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) combined with also the 8HP75 hybrid transmission from ZF.

It has an integrated e-motor with a maximum output of 82 kilowatts and a continuous power of 50 kilowatts and we have a battery pack around 12 kilowatt-hours gross energy content. 

This car is not rated by EPA yet. In Europe it achieved a range of 46 to 41 kilometers. Its acceleration will be 6.1 second 0 to 60 mph and it has a maximum speed of 210 kilometers per hour. The four-cylinder, the B48 twin-turbo, has 135 kilowatts, and is then boosted and assisted by the 80-kilowatt e-motor, which equals into 215 kilowatts maximum power.

Then also beginning of next year, in Q1, we will have the X5 plug-in hybrid, the X545e. This car has the B58M1 six-cylinder engine with our 8HP75 hybrid transmission and a third-generation BMW e-machine. That’s a permanent synchro e-motor of 250 newton-meters additional torque and has an efficiency of 93 percent. It's an oil-cooled e-motor and the total power output of the car, combined combustion and e-machine, is 600 newton-meters torque and 290 kilowatts of power.

The 2020 BMW X5e Plug-In Hybrid. (Image source: BMW)

The car has a battery capacity of 33 amp-hours, which is provided by 12 battery modules, each containing 16 cells. That would be around 24 kilowatt-hours, gross. So, if you can imagine the first i3 had 22 kilowatt hours, in a full battery electric car. Now we integrate this into a hybrid. You see the improvement here? 

DN: What are the effects on the BMW driving experience of this electrification of the combustion models?

JF: The advantage we have with the e-machine is that we have the possibility to do regenerative braking, and boost and assist the combustion engine. What this means is we have active torque support, so while shifting, you don't feel the shifting anymore. It's very smooth.

If you have energy in your battery, it will go in hybrid driving mode to 110 kilometers per hour [on battery power alone], or in full electric driving mode, up to 135 kilometers per hour, when the combustion engine kicks in. Or of course, you can choose the Sport mode, which is a combination of combustion and e-motor right from the start. Zero-to-60 mph acceleration is 5.6 seconds and the range [on the European test cycle] is 67 to 87 kilometers.

We have the X5 electric PHEV in the spring next year and we have the X3 electric PHEV spring next year. We get a 3-Series with a four-cylinder engine and the e-machine from the 530e. So, that means next year on the PHEV side we have the 3-Series PHEV, the X3 PHEV, the X5 PHEV, the 745e PHEV, the 530e PHEV.

BMW's family of electrified vehicles. (Image source: BMW)

DN: Those are a lot of hybrids. What about pure EVs?

JF: On the full-electric side, we have the i3S of course, and i3 with 120 amp-hour battery and e-machine. It's a third-generation e-motor, 135 kilowatts. It got 120 amp-hour or 42.6 kilowatt-hour energy content in the battery. 

We have talked about also about the i4, and also a 4-Series, fully electric car. And we talked about the i20, or i-Next concept car which was shown on the Los Angeles Auto Show [in 2018] as well. That’s a full electric car able to do over 300 miles electric and with the newest generation of our electric power train, so-called fifth generation. It has fifth-generation batteries and a fifth-generation power train.

Assembling battery packs at BMW's plant in Spartanburg, S.C. (Image source: BMW)

DN: You’ve started building fourth-generation battery packs now to go in the upcoming X3 and X5 plug-in hybrids. How do they differ from the third-generation batteries that are in cars currently in showrooms?

JF:  They have higher energy density and slightly increased current limits so it means you get more power out of the same volume. 

DN: What are some of the main issues you’re working on for the future of EVs?

JF: I think one of them is that we have committed to a sustainable approach. Of course, that means the whole supply chain and gathering the materials, having supply agreements and contracts in place, long-term contracts to actually ensure that the supply chain has security. 

Not only in regards to actually gathering the materials and having the critical materials available, but also how. There was a lot of discussion in the media about like, how dirty gathering those materials is and that it does not always conform with humanity, I would say.  Not BMW!  

BMW has committed to this officially and we say, “We have standards. We treat people fairly. We have work safety in place.” That's our commitment here.

DN: How about in terms of the technology?

JF: We want to reduce complexity, and improve the packaging of our new electric power train, which in the fifth generation contains the power electronics, e-machine and the transmission all in one package, which BMW calls “HEAT,” a Highly Integrated Electrical Drivetrain, in German. 

BMW is supporting construction of crucial EV charging infrastructure in the U.S. and Europe. (Image source: BMW)

We have announced the strategy to be open to whatever demand is out there in terms of plug-in hybrids in the future, full electric cars or combustion engines, to deliver all this on the same production line. You have to have a modular and flexible approach. 

We have this flexible production approach, so on the same assembly line we can assemble, in the future, our fifth-generation cars, whether it is a plug-in hybrid, full electric car or a combustion engine. That's an advantage in our eyes, because now, whatever demand is out there, we deliver because they only want.

Making the fifth generation, decreasing the complexity now and increasing the modular approach and making it more compact, I think that's a big challenge.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

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