BMW was fast out of the gate at the start of the EV revolution with its first battery-electric car, the i3. It featured lots of innovative thinking, especially its use of a mostly carbon fiber chassis, but it suffered from modest range at a time when public charging infrastructure was virtually non-existent. The company offered a model with a range extender engine, which seemed like the ideal solution to the range and charging issue, but US regulators effectively killed it by insisting the engine not be activated until the battery was down to about a 5% state of charge.
By that point, the engine could recharge the battery or keep the car moving forward, but it couldn’t do both. Sales of the i3 continued elsewhere, but never took off in the US. BMW was left with a bit of a black eye and a public relations disaster in America, neither of which it deserved. The i3 debacle also helped fuel the belief among US drivers that electric cars really weren’t ready for prime time, a mindset that is just now beginning to change.
Since then, BMW has stumbled and bumbled its way forward. Its current EV offerings are OK and owners seem to like them, but they really haven’t broken any new ground, except in the design department. Love ’em or hate ’em, the new BMW electrics are distinctive!
It has been well over a decade since the i3 emerged and a lot has happened in the world of electric cars since then. BMW is now poised to bring its third generation electric cars to market using its all new Neue Klasse chassis. The first models are not scheduled to arrive until 2025, but the company is already trumpeting their wonders.
In a press release in September, it said the new cars would reduce embedded carbon emissions — mostly from improvements in battery manufacturing — and greatly increase the use of recycled materials, while making cars that are themselves more recyclable when they reach the end of their useful life. BMW says $4 trillion worth of materials for battery production will be needed between now and 2050. 45% of emissions are caused by raw material production and use, and only 9% of all materials are currently recycled.
Introducing The Neue Klasse
Recently, BMW held a splashy press event for its Neue Klasse vehicles, and CAR Magazine was on hand to report on the festivities. Chief technology officer Frank Weber began by announcing, “With the New Class lineup, we are going to make a huge technology leap.”
That begins with a new “pack to open body” concept that allows BMW to tailor its battery sizes to fit any model. As we reported previously, BMW will move away from the prismatic cells it has relied on previously and switch to round battery cells. They will be 46 mm in diameter — a configuration pioneered by Tesla — but can be different lengths to meet the needs of each individual use case.
Where Tesla is using exclusively 4680 cells, BMW says it will use 46120 cells for its new SUVs and 4695 cells for sedans. (Samsung SDI says it is working on 4640 and 4660 battery cells for a “major European manufacturer. Hmm….) CATL, EVE, and Northvolt will supply the new battery cells. “Our highly focused pack to open body concept pioneers a truly innovative approach to battery integration and final assembly,’ says Weber.
The batteries come in different chemical compositions to emphasize maximum power, extended range, slower degradation, or lower cost. The materials used include nickel, lithium, manganese, iron, silicon, and phosphate. It all adds up to 20% higher energy density, 30% better packaging efficiency, up to 30% more range, and up 30% quicker charging compared to the current batteries used. The company adds that manufacturing costs can be up to 50% less as well.
While other manufacturers using a similar cell-to-chassis concept try to fill every crevice with a battery or two, BMW is opting for an easy fit modular solution which enhances the torsional rigidity, lowers the center of gravity, and supports repair and maintenance work.
“The combination of an 800 volt system and a high performance charger increases the range every minute by 30 miles, up to a maximum of 375 miles,” says Weber. That’s about twelve minutes for a zero to 95% recharge. NOW the EV revolution is getting serious!
Power To The People
The Neue Klasse chassis can accommodate up to four motors and is flexible enough to meet the needs of the company’s entire range of electric cars, from the 1 series up to the full size X7. While most future e-models are to feature straightforward RWD and AWD configurations with one or two current-excited synchronous SSM (separately-excited) units driving the rear wheels, the thoroughbred M cars are expected to boast a quad-motor layout for ultimate grip and extreme torque vectoring.
Why SSM instead of ASM (asynchronously-excited) or PSM (permanently-excited)? Because according to BMW, only SSM warrants a stable peak performance, high energy density, excellent repeatability, and low noise emission together with a 97% efficiency rate.
The power output ranges from 268 bhp up to a stellar 1341 bhp. Battery pack sizes will range from 75 kWh to 150 kWh. “Going big on cell power and extreme range is not the solution, because the size and weight penalty is counter-productive,’ Weber says. “Instead, we must get the best out of every watt-hour by further reducing the rolling resistance, improving aerodynamics and increasing the on-board energy efficiency.”
Thomas Albrecht, head of Efficient Dynamics, claims the Neue Klasse cars will beat previous architectures by at least 25% in terms of aerodynamic efficiency. CAR Magazine says there is a multi-zone active Autobahn mode in the works to further curtail drag above 70 mph while at the same time improving downforce through fast corners. Also in the pipeline are so-called A+ tires which allegedly cut the rolling resistance by up to 7%. Modified low-loss wheel bearings and friction-optimized brakes contribute a further 4%.
What About Styling?
When asked about the reportedly dramatic design changes which are in the works for the New Class, Weber became rather tight-lipped. “All I can say right now is that appearance-wise, the Neue Klasse cars will be breakthrough efforts which leave no stone unturned.” CAR Magazine says its sources believe Weber and his chief stylists have a chosen a pragmatic and cost efficient interim fusion between the current rodent fang (their term, not ours, but if the shoe fits…) focused design and an altogether different front end look.
The new low-drag i3, due in 2025, introduces different proportions defined by the cab-forward greenhouse, notably longer wheelbase, shorter front overhang and a unique slipstream rear end. This, of course, is the direction all electric cars should be going in. We no longer have cars with 8, 10, 12, or 16 cylinder engines out front. An electric vehicle platform allows designers to do things that were never possible before, but most have been reluctant to depart too dramatically from conventional expectations.
BMW Will Offer Affordable Electric Cars
Mercedes said in July it is targeting the top end of the market with its new electric cars and dedicating 75% of its development budget to its “core luxury” C and E Class cars. At a conference organized by Robert Bosch this week, BMW CEO Oliver Zipse said, “We are not leaving the lower market segment. Even if you consider yourself a premium manufacturer, it is wrong to leave the lower market segment that will be the core of your business in the future.”
That’s welcome news. While we here at CleanTechnica celebrate all new electric car, truck, bus, forklift, and airplane news, we worry that too few manufacturers are targeting that part of the market served today by Corolla, Civic, and Elantra models. Only Chevrolet seems to be giving this part of the market serious consideration with its Bolt and upcoming Equinox offerings.
It sounds as though the BMW cars built on the Neue Klasse chassis will provide an exciting boost to the entire EV revolution, not just the top of the market.
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Source: Clean Technica