Financial talk can make one’s eyes go crossed but bear with us. At BMW, the financial results for 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 were okay, but they were far from their usual brilliance. In fact, since 2015, BMW share prices in Europe have fallen from €122 ($137) to €65 ($73)—a decrease of 47 percent. Last year, earnings of the car division tumbled by 22 percent to €6.2 billion ($7 billion), while the return on investment fell from 9.2 to 7.2 percent. For this year, the first official estimate warned of a possible further decline to between 4.5 and 6.5 percent.
In addition to the tariff spat triggered by presidents Trump and Xi, numerous major investments are putting pressure on BMW’s corporate budget, including new factories being built in Hungary and Mexico, an expansion of production capacity in China and the U.S., and converting existing factories to handle electrified models. Most recently, management put aside €1.4 billion ($1.6 billion) to fund a pending antitrust violation penalty initiated by the EU. The cost squeeze will turn from bad to worse if President Trump decides to actually impose the signaled higher import tariffs at the end of a six-month grace period.
While there is not much the executive team can do about the increasingly gloomy global economic situation, they do need to quickly redefine key strategic goals and product-related innovations. On top of the to-do list is the growingly critical fleet-emissions number, which needs to be decreased by 25 percent by 2021. Since missing this mark entails heavy punitive fines, BMW must pull out all the stops to get a lot more plug-in hybrids and full EVs on the road. At the same time, it has to find ways to make up losses incurred due to the declining interest in diesel engines. To meet these and other markers, CFO Nicolas Peter plans to save almost €13 billion ($14.5 billion) between now and the end of 2022 by speeding up the R&D process via simulation instead of prototyping, cutting the number of engine and equipment variations (every second option must go), and by preparing BMW for the day when its first new-generation electric car, the iNext, hits the market.
Partnerships and Dead Cars Rolling
Once bitten, twice shy—the Bavarians remain suspicious of any kind of extensive partnership ever since the ill-fated purchase of Mini, Rover, and Land Rover took the company to the brink of disaster back in 1994. In the past, BMW was at one time close to buying Jaguar; thought about a deeper partnership with Toyota; had quick flings with Opel, Morgan, and Bristol, plus a longer one with PSA; talked at length to McLaren about a joint supercar; and cultivated a yearlong love-hate relationship with Mercedes. Only a few months ago, BMW started supplying 4.0-liter V-8 engines to Jaguar Land Rover, who will in the not too distant future also get electric motors from BMW. But the numbers involved in that British connection are peanuts compared to the prospective economies of scale a cooperation with Daimler-Benz would yield, which we’ve detailed even further here. Although they failed to agree on a common PHEV/BEV platform, the two carmakers are currently discussing a joint component set for a low-cost electric sedan to be produced in China for the domestic market, where it would be cost significantly less than the to-be-discontinued four-door 1 Series sedan and pricey A-class sedan.
Like Audi and Mercedes, BMW is struggling to make money on cars that retail at less than €40,000, and roughly the same amount in U.S. currency. The rear-wheel-drive 1 Series, the 2 Series, and lower-trim 3 Series variants contribute very little if anything at all to the bottom line, and the company has established a list of doomed models. In addition to the three-door 1 Series, 2 Series Gran Tourer, and 3 Series GT, tombstones are being chiseled for the 2 Series convertible, standard-wheelbase 7 Series, Z4 replacement (sorry, Toyota), and both two-door 8 Series variants. If it wasn’t Reithofer’s personal darling, the 6 Series GT would also be head straight to the slaughterhouse in 2024. The 8 Series Gran Coupe will likely survive alongside the long-wheelbase 7 Series. While the X2 is also said to live on borrowed time, BMW has finally signed off the brand-new X8 which is mercifully not just a coupe version of the gargantuan X7. Instead, the board gave a green light to an emphatically sporty crossover which will be exclusively offered in M Performance and X8 M forms, and also sport a brawny M Power plug-in-hybrid powertrain that incorporates a 168-hp, 184-lb-ft electric motor and 60-kWh battery pack for zero-emissions driving range of up to 60 miles.
The Future of BMW i and Other EVs
As for the groundbreaking i3 and i8, the former will be phased out in its current high-tech and high-cost carbon-fiber form when its comparatively conventional replacement codenamed U15 arrives in 2022. Loosely based on the next X1, the i3 replacement will reportedly be available as EV and as fuel-cell vehicle. It is expected to come with a choice of 38- or 76-kWh battery packs, as well as offer a long-wheelbase version for China. The i8 is due for a redesign in 2022 when the shorter and lighter MkII effort dubbed i12 is due to benefit from a beefed-up 150-kW (201-hp) electric motor and a stronger, 340-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for a total of 544 horsepower—not bad for a flagship carbon-fiber sports car, but merely a token gesture compared to the proposed and canceled all-electric 680-hp i8M and the 750-hp plug-in i9, both of which would have required a complete redesign.
In 2021, BMW is going to introduce its overdue iNext halo car, which will likely be badged i6. According to a member of the project team, we can expect three different versions. Heat I is rear-wheel drive, features a 63-kWh battery pack, a 250-kW motor (335 hp), and a range of 285 miles. Essential target data include a curb weight of less than 5,300 pounds, a drag coefficient of 0.275, and a 4.5-second zero-to-62-mph acceleration time. Heat II is all-wheel drive, boasts total power output of of 320 kW (429 hp), uses a 92-kWh energy pack, can do the zero-to-62 run in 3.5 seconds, and promises a range of 350 miles. At the top of the performance tree, Heat III looks to charm with a 150-kW (201 hp) motor driving the front wheels and a 250 kW (335-hp) unit propelling the rear wheels, for a total of 536 horsepower. Insider information suggests that the highest-end iNext (which will later also be available with a 103-kWh battery pack) can beam itself to 62 mph in only 2.8 seconds. Even so, the range between pit stops is claimed to be a respectable 375 miles. Just as Porsche is preparing an S version of the Taycan Turbo, there is a 115-kWh i6S waiting in the wings. Pricing is at this point understandably still provisional, but we hear that the range will stretch from €72K to about €110K before options, with pricing of any U.S.-market models likely to closely align in terms of the numerals. While the top speed of the base i3 replacement is limited to 93 mph, the entry-level i6 is restricted to 125 mph. The next i8 however is claimed to be good for 160 mph.
A fully electric X3 variant is also coming, and it doesn’t differ much visually from last year’s Beijing Show concept. This late addition to the range due next year is RWD only. To keep the price down, the battery pack and electric motor are bottom-drawer items, with range an accordingly unexciting 155 miles. For model-year 2021, BMW is preparing the production version of the i4 (G26), which is in essence a battery-powered and re-bodied 3 Series with superior packaging and a super-cool cabin layout. In 2023, the wraps will come off the i7 based on the seventh-generation G70 7 Series out in 2022. Riding on the modular RWD CLAR matrix, G70 is the first new arrival that ticks all three boxes: internal-combustion, plug-in hybrid, and full EV. Although the i derivatives speak a somewhat different design language, the core architecture is identical across the board. Next to join the Bavarian zero-emission movement will be the i5 based on the future 5 Series (2023) and the iX5 earmarked for 2024 and based on the current X5 model.
Among BMW’s EV components, the range of electric motors runs from 100 to 250 kW (134 to 335 hp), with a total maximum output of 500 kW being reserved for the M division. In the plug-in-hybrid (PHEV) department, the four-cylinder engines are to receive a 75-kW (101 hp), 150 Nm (110 lb-ft) electric power boost, with electrical energy stored in a 30-kWh pack. The corresponding numbers for the straight-six plug-ins are 100 kW (134 hp), 200 Nm (148 lb-ft), and 40kWh. The so-called “Power” PHEV system standard on the MPA V-8 and available for the 3.0-liter six ups the ante to 125 kW (168 hp), 250 Nm (184 lb-ft), 60kWh, and a silent, planet-friendly driving range of 60 miles. The above data relate to the Gen IV lithium-ion batteries which will are said to give way to more efficient solid-state technology around 2025. Charging time is another tall hurdle for the battery-toting cars; within the next five years, the the charging rate is set to increase in several increments from 120 to 350 kW. At the same time, the available voltage level is due to go up to 500 volts and eventually 800 volts. It’s only then that forecasts predicting a drop in charge time to 10 minutes for smallish EVs and to well under 20 minutes for full-size electric SUVs will come true.
Ever since Chris Bangle started his career of hits and misses, BMW design was never as consistently outstanding as what Audi would deliver courtesy of Marc Lichte and as the Mercedes efforts penned by and under Gorden Wagener. From the overwrought Mini over the graceless 7 Series to the unpardonable Cullinan, the current breed of BMW Group cars is spoiled by grotesque overhangs, fake ducts and vents, distracting sculpting, weird angles, garish details, creases going nowhere, metaphorical slashes, and humongous grilles which cross the line from frivolity to embarrassing—just check out the XXXL lapse in taste on the X7 or the rodent-teeth caricature on the iNext. If polarization is the first step toward rejection, why is the board signing off on vehicles that look as if they were styled by someone under the influence? Sadly, this design philosophy extends to the interiors, where clear instrument graphics and intuitive ergonomics no longer feature. On the bright side of things, voice control is improving in leaps and bounds, and BMW not long ago decided to retain its trademark iDrive rotary controller until at least 2023 when the next 5 Series arrives. Whereas future M products—watch out for the next M3—are going to wear an even louder and more aggressive aesthetic, the appearance of the i performance models is fairly understated, sources say.
At the last annual meeting, Harald Krüger pleaded for an openness to different technologies as the best strategy to take BMW through the pending paradigm shift. Unlike VW chief Herbert Diess, who is wagering double-digit billions of dollars on EVs, his former employer seems to favor a step-by-step transformation. This may indeed be a prudent short-term approach, but what exactly is the winning formula for the year 2025 and beyond, when the evolutionary potential of BMW’s FAAR/CLAR convergence platform comes to its limits? After all, the three-trick ICE/PHEV/EV pony will eventually be little more than a complex and costly compromise in a market set to be dominated by cheaper, simpler, and more efficient EVs. Meanwhile, BMW focuses its investment in a cleaner future on de-contenting FAAR/CLAR, bundling the assembly of PHEVs and EVs in designated factories, and clearing the fast track for smaller, lighter, and stronger batteries. Even though nailing the timing of EVs is of the essence, an unconditional commitment to electro-mobility might be years away in Munich.
The executive team could have solved this problem by teaming up with Mercedes and jointly creating a scalable PHEV/EV architecture. But at the end of the day, pride and the ‘if it’s not invented here, it’s no good’ mindset stalled the negotiations at the eleventh hour. With the exception of the aforementioned trial project for China, the no-go decision leaves both parties empty-handed and in a quandary. In the wake of an emergency board meeting in April, the leaders of the Mercedes car division agreed that the prospect of entertaining 10 different platforms through 2028 instead of only four as envisaged in conjunction with BMW was unacceptable. At the same time, their colleagues from further down south are hoping to get away with merely three variations (FAAR, CLAR, i8), but to provide for all eventualities, a dedicated EV matrix is said to be in the early stages of development. Instead of focusing, Mercedes-style, on two different sets of modules tailored for compact and full-size cars, BMW is said to favor a set of scalable subassemblies that would, in an ideal world, cater for the entire portfolio from 1 to 7 Series.
What’s Up with Mini and Rolls
Great Wall Motors is in charge of the next Mini three-door, five-door, and MiniMini city car, but the future Countryman (think BMW X1), Spaceman (think BMW Active Tourer), and Sportsman (think X2/2 Series Gran Coupe) are going to tap BMW’s FAAR components set. Meanwhile, augurs predict a second facelift for the current Mini range, which would extend the lifecycle by two years to beef up the brand’s fragile business case. At the other end of the scale, Rolls-Royce is going to launch a new Ghost in August 2020 in standard- (RR21) and extended-wheelbase (RR22) forms. An as-yet-unspecified EV version has been penciled in for 2022. The follow-up to the charismatic Wraith (RR25) is also due in 2022. Two years later, the successor to the Dawn (RR24) convertible will be unveiled. The Phantom won’t be renewed before 2027, when we expect the V-12 to be superseded by a V-8 and when phase II of the i7 drivetrain is likely to power the luxury division’s EV spin-off. Although the Cullinan has an appointment with the plastic surgeon in 2022, even gifted new chief designer Jozef Kaban may need a magical moment or two to convert this monstrosity into a vehicle that inspires something more than derision and aggression outside its gated-community habitat.