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BMW development director Weber promises completely new combustion engines

The BMW Board Member for Development comments on the new 7 Series, the wide variety of vehicle architectures, the combustion engine and its future that he sees, as well as increasing the efficiency of electronic components.

The signals in terms of electrification are becoming clearer, the end dates for the construction of cars with combustion engines more concrete: rapid conversion to purely electric is the motto of a number of manufacturers, for whom the complete turnaround cannot be completed quickly enough. Fear of government bans on combustion engines is spreading. BMW development director Frank Weber thinks nothing of this at all. Before setting an end date, as the EU has proposed with the year 2035, the alternative infrastructure must be there.

Weber's strategy: In addition, continue to offer all models with newly developed, significantly more economical combustion engines, namely petrol and diesel. In plug-in hybrids with a growing e-range, he continues to see a bridging technology to complete electrification. The head of development explains more about this and an outlook on the BMW models of the future, such as the electric 7 Series (i7) (see photo show) in an interview. Jens Dralle and Michael Pfeiffer asked the questions. You can also read the interview and a big story about the EQXX research vehicle from competitor Mercedes in the current auto motor und sport (issue 3/2022), which you can buy here or at the kiosk.

Mr. Weber, this year the replacement of the 7er is coming up. How should it differ from the Mercedes S-Class?

I am very sure that we will succeed convincingly. The 7 Series will be the only one in its segment where the buyer can choose between a combustion engine and fully electric. The all-electric BMW i7 is fantastic to drive, for the self-driver, but above all when being driven. I would even go so far as to say that with the i7 we will be launching the first fully-fledged, all-electric luxury sedan.

So you're not planning an independent electric sedan?

No, because we are convinced that this is the only way we can offer a befitting amount of space without having to make too many compromises due to aerodynamics. Our efficient drive technology will nevertheless enable the best possible consumption values ​​and ranges.

What happens with the combustion engines?

One thing is certain for us: we still need the ultra-modern combustion engine for a few more years to effectively reduce CO2 emissions in the passenger car sector globally. That's why we're working on a new generation of engines: petrol, diesel, six-cylinder, eight-cylinder. They will then also be technologically prepared for the coming emission standards. With the six-cylinder engine alone, we are reducing CO2 emissions more massively than has ever been the case with a generation change. We are helped here by the fact that legislation is beginning to be standardized around the world.In order to reconcile emission requirements on the one hand and performance requirements on the other, we looked at the entire charge cycle and found a promising approach there. This technology then runs through all engine families and is supplemented by a powerful electric drive pulley. ,

So from scratch - or rather an extensive revision?

Nothing is really like it was before. There's something completely new in the cylinder head. And with that, we'll go even further when it comes to efficiency. Because regardless of whether it is a combustion engine or electric, the overall reduction in CO2 is crucial in the fight against climate change. What the customer wants is just as important. And we have to meet the wishes and requirements accordingly. ,

So the new 7 Series can do both electric and combustion engines. The iX has an independent architecture. The i4, in turn, is based on a combustion engine architecture, front-wheel drive models such as the X1 can also be purely electric in the future. In 2025 the so-called new class will come, only electric. Why this mess?

Oh, that's actually not that complicated. We once sketched a picture with three waves. The first wave was made up of i3 and i8. They were early, the volume was low, there was no platform idea. We are now in wave two, where flexibility is immensely important. No matter what we do, the components have to be usable everywhere. For example, iX and i4 are the same on the drive side, storage side and on-board network side. This then extends to the 7 and 5 to the X1. This means that we have an identical technical base in drive-flexible architectures for electric drives.

How does the iX sort itself there? Why not an electric SUV?

Look, the X5 development began around 2014. At that time, the risk of having to make too many compromises with the conventional X5 and possibly alienating the large regular clientele was too great. At the same time, we decided to achieve the maximum possible with the iX and to position it differently next to the conventional product. And at the latest with the New Class we will then start into an age in which it is no longer about BMW on the one hand and BMW i on the other, but only about BMW. From then on, the brand is basically electric. ,

Do you really assume that from a global perspective, the automotive world will change so much from 2025 that flexible drive architectures can be phased out?

Valid question, because if you compare an i4 and an iX today, you will come to the conclusion that regardless of their architecture, both are excellent products. Incidentally, it is also clear that vehicles based on a BEV-only architecture will not look fundamentally different.But now we have to consider going into the really big volume with the coming generations of electric vehicles. In our case, for example, these are the 3 Series and the X3. ,

So the next threesome will be purely electric?

I didn't say that. It's still too early for that.

So will there be a completely new, purely electric 3 Series, and the current one with the combustion engines will still be on offer?

Well, the current 3 Series isn't a bad car, is it? In 2025 there will still be many people who cannot drive an electric car because they do not have the necessary infrastructure. This will develop at very different speeds in the individual markets. But – and this is very important to me – we will not force our customers to choose between the new and the supposedly old. Our aim is to always offer the most sustainable and innovative vehicles, regardless of the type of drive.

How do you bring the two worlds together?

I don't want to tell you that just yet. Okay, maybe this much: What we are bringing to the new class with the modular electric drive system is fundamentally different from what we know today. But that also applies to all other modular systems - such as the digital one with on-board power supply, operating concept and automated driving functions or the chassis and interior modular systems. Here we will take a big step forward everywhere. And all of these modules are cross-architecture and can be adapted for all future vehicle concepts, regardless of the drive. And by the way: what the e-machines will be able to do may mean that you have to imagine the next M3 in a completely different way. ,

Compared to an i4, how big will the jump in efficiency and cost be?

We can look a bit to the end of the decade and see that the strokes that will be possible in terms of efficiency and costs will far exceed those that we know from combustion engines. Even with an electric motor, which is known for its high level of efficiency, a lot is still possible. What happens at higher speeds? How does the engine degrade? What is the most attractive design? There really is still a lot of potential there. We develop and build the engines ourselves, which of course helps us. Power electronics is also an issue, because it shrinks by 50 percent every three to four years while maintaining the same level of performance. The aim for the cell is to reduce costs by 30 percent in the next generation. Therefore, our goal is also to generate a comparable return with the next generation BEV as with a combustion engine.

So the new class no longer needs state funding?

We do not assume this in our planning. We're talking about really big volumes, the "new normal" so to speak.Efficiency is at the heart of everything we do. Thermal systems, structures, high and low-voltage systems - all of this has a value comparable to that of the weight of a vehicle. There's really a lot more to do. We don't just call the new class that because it was about time. This stands for how the brand deals with the topic of BEVs, how this affects the design, which platform and components are required, how digital performance is developing, because this is where development is particularly rapid. Not to forget: sustainability. This is not trivial for a BEV. If the cycle cannot be closed there, there will be no BEV industry. ,

Back to digital performance: Ever since the E65, i.e. the first iDrive system, BMW has developed a leading role in this area. The iX, however, which we tested, attracted attention due to a few bugs. Is that also "new normal", simply because the topic is so complex?

Absolutely not. The cars that come to the customers run flawlessly. The initial start-up of a new generation of wiring systems is demanding. When we introduced the over-the-air upgrade in 2018, it became more complex than before. You used to have a hardware and a software stand, and then it was merged. In the meantime, functions are coming into the car from the area of ​​assistance systems in particular, which require an enormous depth of protection. With our BMW Operating System 8, we have a modular operating system with which we can update every single line of code in the vehicle over the air. In this way, we can digitally maintain vehicles in the hands of customers perfectly. With 2.5 million vehicles, we have the largest upgradeable fleet in the world for 30 models and all drive types. In the last three years we have carried out 35 upgrades and made functions such as the parking maneuver assistant, the eDrive Zones or BMW Maps available.

But if all the construction kits are so important, and less so the architecture itself, what is really new about the new class?

It is the universal architectural concept for all BMWs, from the 1 Series to the X7. As a result, modular systems that are easy to structure are created, from the entry-level engine to an M product. The way the battery gets in there will also be completely new. This is really only possible with BEV-only. Then we pay a lot of attention to the display and operating concepts. There has never been so much change in a BMW in one fell swoop.

And until everyone wants to drive an electric car, do you still have to increase the range of your plug-in hybrids?

We are already registering an exceptionally high level of customer satisfaction with the X5 PHEV. A PHEV that can cover 80 to 100 km purely electrically will mostly drive most customers purely electrically.This plays a really important role in the transition, because the problem of not having enough charging stations cannot be solved overnight. That is why we are so vehemently opposed to naming a date for phasing out combustion engines. Rather, the question must be: When will the infrastructure be there? Of course, the future is electric, only if we force customers into an e-car now and they are all stuck in traffic at the charging station on their way to vacation, then nothing will be gained. And nobody can want that. This transition will not be over in five or ten years.


, Frank Weber, born in Wiesbaden in 1966, completed his mechanical engineering studies at the TU Darmstadt in 1990. After a year as an assistant at the Chair of Automotive Technology, he moved to Opel as a project engineer for complete vehicles. After further positions, Weber was responsible for the development of the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt/Opel Ampera for GM. In 2011 he moved to BMW as head of overall vehicle development, took over the large model series in 2015 and then the luxury series including Rolls-Royce in 2018. The convinced vegetarian has been a member of the board since July 1, 2020. ,


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