BMW Plans More Plug-In Hybrids, Gas Engine Overhaul


  • BMW i3 Picture

    BMW i3 Picture

    The BMW i3 uses a two-cylinder gas motor in its optional hybrid format. | July 29, 2011

2 Photos

Just the Facts:
  • Tightening European emissions laws could force a million BMW buyers a year into plug-in hybrids by 2020.
  • New laws will see internal-combustion engines downsizing, and a radical lowering of engine revs to as little as 2,500 rpm.
  • BMW's i3 and i8 electric and hybrid models are part of BMW's response to tighter emissions rules.

MUNICH, Germany — Tightening European emissions laws could force a million BMW buyers a year into plug-in hybrids by 2020, according to BMW's development head.

The new laws will also see internal-combustion engines become virtually unrecognizable compared to today's engines, with more downsizing and a radical lowering of engine revs to as little as 2,500 rpm.

BMW's board member in charge of development, Herbert Deiss, admitted the company had grave concerns that other European countries may follow The Netherlands and demand CO2 emissions below 80 grams/km by 2020.

"There are some countries where we will need to be 100 percent plug-in hybrid, like Holland, which is planning 80 grams emissions by 2020. If other countries adopt that, then it will be 50 percent of our sales are plug-in hybrids (PIH)," Herbert Deiss admitted last week.

"To get below 80 grams, we will need longer gearboxes and down-speeding engines, but it will be more radical than that."

Gas engines will need to be completely re-engineered to turn only half as fast as today's motors and deliver their peak torque from as little as 800 rpm if they're to survive in an electrified motoring world, he insisted.

"Initially that will mean 1,800-2,500 rpm for the best internal-combustion engine (ICE) performance but it will really mean 800 rpm-1,800 rpm longer term, or between 800 and 1,500 rpm.

"That's where both gas and diesel ICE needs to go in the future to meet those kinds of numbers.

"More torque at lower rpm. There are still a lot of measures to improve in the engines. Internal friction is one, valvetrain friction, higher injection pressures. It will be tighter. We will spend more money on the next 5 grams than we did on the last 10."

Its i3 and i8 electric and hybrid models are part of BMW's response to tighter emissions rules, with the i3 boasting a two-cylinder gas motor in its optional hybrid format and the i8 using a three-cylinder diesel engine to charge its battery pack.

"The i8 drivetrain will not be exclusive to the i8. The three-cylinder will be used in other cars as well."

Most obviously, the three-cylinder engine will find homes throughout the models BMW plans off its new front-drive architecture, code named UKL. This architecture will provide the basis for BMW's 1 and 2 Series families, along with the next X1 and the production version of the Sports Active Tourer concept and all future Mini models.

"When we decided to keep Mini, one of our major motivations was our fleet CO2 emissions because it is not possible to get an SUV under 100 grams. But Mini and a family of front-drive BMWs will help and more three-cylinder engines will help," he said, but it won't stop there.

"I can see the day when the 3 and 4 Series will be powered by three-cylinder engines with electric boosting for low revs.

"The combination will be exciting with the low-speed torque of electric power and then that is taken over by the high-end performance with gas engines. It's exciting for us."

For all that, there are still people who are torn between conventional hybrids, plug-in-hybrids, pure electric and conventional gas power, and Deiss admits he can see why.

"The compromise on PIH is the key. If we put too much battery in, then the cars are not getting any better because the batteries are not used to the maximum range.

"The right distance is maybe 30-50 km but not more."

Edmunds says: While some companies are looking to pure electric cars to meet future emissions regulations, BMW sees a clear path to sustainability through hybrids that will preserve the brand's reputation for performance.

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