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BMW opens up on transition to electrified vehicles

BMW sold more than 100,000 electrified vehicles in 2017 with 2018 figures set to hit around 150,000 sales. By 2025 it will have around 25 electrified vehicles in its range.

BMW has been one of the quiet achievers of the electrified vehicle movement, rolling out vehicles like the i3 and i8 but also hybridising many its existing vehicles. And sales are impressive with the brand expecting sales of electrified vehicles (comprising hybrid or all-electric) to hit 150,000 in 2018.

Indeed, the brand is already up to its fifth-generation electric powertrain which will roll out under the iX3 in 2020. But, more importantly than this, the brand has committed to the elimination of rare earth materials in the production of battery cells for electric vehicles.

BMW’s vice president of electric vehicle development, Stefan Juraschek sat down to discuss the brand’s electric vehicle push.

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Asked about BMW’s fifth-generation electric drive system, Juraschek said, “A crucial advantage of this fifth-generation system is that the electric motor, transmission and power electronics now form a single, highly integrated electric drive component. This extremely compact unit takes up far less space than the three separate components used in preceding generations. Its modular construction means that it is scalable, too, allowing it to be modified to suit all sorts of different installation spaces and power requirements”.

What this means is that BMW now has a modular electric drive system that allows for “easy” construction of a range different vehicle types. “In future, we will be able to swiftly decide which models we are going to equip with what mix of all-electric drive, plug-in hybrid drive or exceptionally efficient combustion engines. This will let us partially or fully electrify each model in accordance with market demand, creating the basis for the mass-market introduction of pure battery electric vehicles in the future”.

When it comes to electric vehicles it can be easy for marketing purposes to focus on the technology and the environmental benefits of not burning fossil fuels. And so, it can be easy to ‘overlook’ the fact that the production of electric vehicles can be incredibly harmful to the earth with the extraction and production of rare earths needed for battery cells and motors. BMW said it is moving to eradicate the use of rare earths in the production of electrified vehicles.

“We are also endeavouring to gradually lower the proportion of critical raw materials that are used. For example, one of the key objectives of our research and development activities is to bring about a substantial reduction in the proportion of cobalt in battery cells.

“The electric motor in our fifth-generation electric powertrain is another illustration of this, as it is completely free of rare earths.”

Unlike other makers, BMW is using partners to produce electric batteries and is using a different type of battery cell. Some makers are using prismatic or pouch cell types but BMW is employing prismatic battery cells because it’s easier to automate the production and it claims the safety systems needed are easier to install than other battery types.

With electric motor makers springing up all over the world, BMW answered the question on why it continues to develop motors inhouse. “When the development plans for the BMW i3 became tangible, there wasn’t a single electric motor on the market that would have met all our criteria. And today we are still just as unwilling to make any compromises when it comes to key performance characteristics, such as space requirements, output and weight. Drive systems have always been an area that has set the BMW Group apart from the competition. And exactly the same applies to electric drive systems,” Juraschek said.

And then there’s the issue of disposal of electric batteries once their lifecycle has been exhausted for vehicle use. BMW claims its working with partners to recycle the batteries as stationary storage devices to capture and release electricity generated by renewable sources.

Question: Do you think there is enough scrutiny of car makers when it comes to electric vehicle production and the use of batteries once they’ve become useless for vehicle use?


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.