In a roundtable discussion, Klaus Draeger, BMW board member in charge of product development, touched on a variety of subjects, ranging from electric vehicles, triple-turbo diesels, and his commitment to the straight six.
Weight saving and EVs
Commenting on the Mini E and the 1-series Active E, Draeger said that the takeaways from the customer lease trials of those cars were that U.S. customers were using them as regular cars and that they were driving an average of 40 miles per day. “So we found out the range of 150 km [about 100 miles] was sufficient.” But Draeger pointed out that making an EV from a conventional car was not an efficient approach, because the electric motor is much smaller than a combustion engine with all its required peripherals, and yet removing them does not create an ideal space to locate the needed batteries. It’s also a lot heavier. “If we compare the weight of the Active E with the [upcoming] i3—which have essentially the same components—it is roughly 4000 lbs compared to 2750 lbs. Both cars are four-seaters with a luggage compartment, but one is purpose-designed while the other is a conventional vehicle.”
Draeger also explained the wisdom of using carbon fiber in the upcoming i family of electric vehicles. “Using carbon fiber in an electric vehicle allows me to use less batteries, and batteries are expensive.” Moving beyond electric vehicles, Draeger said we would next see increased use of carbon fiber in BMW’s high-performance cars (the M3 coupe already has a carbon-fiber roof), and then in the next 7-series.
Diesels and Crossovers
Currently, about 1/3 of X5 volume is diesel, and BMW recently introduced added a diesel to the 5-series lineup. Draeger said he would not rule out a diesel for the X3; the current X6, however, will not come as a diesel, because it only has about 3 years left in its life cycle. Speaking of the X6, when asked if he was happy with that vehicle’s sales performance, Draeger answered, “Yes, absolutely.” So happy, in fact, that he confirmed BMW will do a similar variant off the X3 called the X4, which will be built at the company's Spartanburg, South Carolina plant.
Draeger also spoke briefly about using three turbos, one electric powered, in future diesel engines. “We see the demand for still more power from the current 3-liter diesel,” he said. BMW will not reintroduce a V-8 diesel, which Draeger dismissed as bulky and heavy. “So we thought about how to increase the power, and the idea is to pump it more up.”
We also asked Draeger whether BMW was firmly committed to the straight-six engine; would the brand ever consider switching over to a V-6? “Never, ever in my life,” came the quick reply. Elaborating, he explained that having the exhaust gasses only on one side allows BMW to use two turbos of different sizes, and also will allow the use of 3 turbos in the future. He further pointed out that the straight six requires half as many camshafts and a much shorter timing chain as well. It also is naturally balanced as well.
Hybrids in performance cars?
“I don’t see it so much at this point,” said Draeger. “For high-performance vehicles, you’re really looking to reduce the weight,” he added. Additionally, Draeger claimed that the brake-energy regeneration systems in hybrids can not recapture all the energy generated by the hard braking that performance cars are more likely to experience. “We would have to have huge electric motors to recapture all that energy.”
X1 and 1 Sseries
The BMW X1 has been a sellout in foreign markets, which has delayed its arrival in the United States. But the subcompact crossover will arrive here before the end of this year. Regarding the 1 Series, we will see new versions of the coupe and the convertible (starting in 2013), but the U.S. market will not get the additional 1 Series variants sold in Europe.