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BMW Megacity – Click above for high-res image

Autocar associate editor Hilton Holloway recently attended a two-day technical briefing on BMW's Megacity Vehicle project and, while he admits that the pure electric Megacity is fascinating in its own right, it's the possibility of BMW introducing a range-extended version at a later date that has him grinning from cheek to cheek. Holloway firmly believes that the range-extended setup is the most promising form of advanced vehicle technology available right now. He describes the virtues of range-extended technology and the drawbacks of pure electric vehicles this way:
One of the biggest problems for pure-electric vehicles is not just the driver's 'range anxiety' but also the huge draw on battery power required by lights and heating in winter. Cold weather also wallops the battery's performance. Using a range-extender layout fixes these problems and should be no more expensive than a pure electric car. The key about combining a petrol engine/generator and battery pack is that it can deliver the performance of a big internal combustion engine along with very low emissions of both CO2 and pollutants.
Holloway backs up some of his claims by referring to the abilities of vehicles such as Jaguar's Limo Green project and the Vauxhall Ampera, both of which are prime examples of range-extended technology. Finally, Holloway closes with this prediction:
Ten years from now, the Mk5, all-aluminium, Range Rover will weigh 1900kg, be powered by a 1.3-litre petrol engine/generator and compact battery pack. It will be good for 135g/km and the air coming out of the exhaust will have lower pollutant levels than the air going into the engine. Try calling that a gas-guzzler.
That's an appealing vision and it makes us bring up the oft-asked question: Will the future of automobiles (long term, say 15-20 years from now) be driven by range-extender technology, or is it more likely that pure electric vehicles will dominate?

[Source: Autocar]


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  • 90 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      UhHuh. All very interesting. However, I see a time in the not-too-distant future when Zero Point Energy will make all this moot. Within the next twenty years though? I don't think so.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "zero point energy" is one of those "holy grails" that are always sought but never found. Those pushing it are usually either misinformed or pulling a scam, unfortunately.

        As for me, I prefer real science and real technology.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I guess I must have a strange sense of humor. Nobody ever seems to get it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The example used of a 1900kg Range Rover isn't exactly a 'car' like the Megacity.

      A dead give away that a bloke is making a piss-weak point is they pick the most extreme example possible. Next he'll be wanting to drive the 2 tonne SUV 500 miles non-stop every day.

      The fact is, these guys are ignorant of the potential battery developments due over the next 5 - 10 years. Nissan have already said publicly they will have a battery with DOUBLE the energy density of the ones in the Leaf currently due for sale in 2015.

      Obama himself says they expect battery prices to drop 50% within 5 years and there are numerous labs working on batteries capable of 10x - 100x the energy density of today's cells.

      These guys are also ignorant of how inefficient ICEs are compared to a battery EV. On the energy contained in a 20 Gallon fuel tank an EV could drive 3400 Miles. To store that much energy in an EV would require a 674 kWh battery, that's 27x the size of the energy stored in a Nissan Leaf!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I completely agree. Pure EVs will definitely also be a decent market. Purists love them. They will cost less. They are perfect for many applications.

      But for general purpose driving, PHEVs will be a solution that people can move to without sacrificing anything they get with their gas car.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yes! Can't wait to buy one myself.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The comments about the future Range Rover are nice from a European perspective. Someday the EU will have genuinely tough toxic emission regulations, like about 2030 or so with EU 9 or EU 10.

      But here in America with the most rigorous toxic emission regulations, long in force, most any new car sold here with a modern ICE engine is already cleaner in its exhaust than the incoming ambient air in Los Angeles or Houston, (or any city in the EU).

      You can think of them as private portable air cleaners and desmoggers if you wish.

      You notice that I had to specify Los Angeles or Houston since these are the last cities in America who don't already have clean air, by today's EPA definitions.

      Incidentally by the standards that the EPA first identified as clean air, back in the 1970s, they too would have clean air today. But like any regulatory agency they are always justifying their continued existence by moving the goalposts, needed or not.

      • 4 Years Ago
      The whole premise is a false dilemma. This isn't an either/or question. Both technologies will exist (alongside straight ICE cars) for the next 50 years. It's likely that none of these three categories will have a majority of the market 40 years from now.

      While range extenders, whether they be ICE, turbines, or stirling engines (DEKA/Th!nk), will be the choice of many --just like some people want sports car and some want pick-up trucks, that technology won't be needed for most second- or third-cars owned by the majority of Americans. If we move toward pluggable series hybrids, the range extenders will be much smaller and more efficient than what's planned for the 1st-Gen Volt. Flex-fuel capability, whether it's gasoline, diesel, alcohol, propane, etc., seems like a desirable goal as well.
        • 4 Years Ago
        What I believe will happen in not-so-distant future is that we have two main categories: pure BEV which will include almost any passenger cars, and HFC RE-EV for larger long range vehicles like trucks, buses etc.

        Not because the capacity of batteries is limited, but because recharging very large battery will also take very long time, and for very large long-haul vehicles charging speed just isn't adequate even with fast chargers.

        In any case in that not-so-distant future ICE is obsoleted (good riddance for that ancient tech).
      • 4 Years Ago
      The range extender can serve too as a performance enhancement when switched in serie with the battery, in fact it's the same thing as repleniching the battery when driving, it's the energy management of the car that can offer these 2 caracteristics, it give the advantage of a more compact more performing and cheaper energy/propultion system. 1000 h.p for a short while is possible to do a passing when needed and the car is full of passengers and luggage. It's like an after burner on army jet plane.

      By the way why haven't we never discuss solar panels fitted on hood top and trunk of car having batteries ??? Theses solar panel can recharge batteries and make hydrogen while we work or watch tv.

      • 4 Years Ago
      I do not want to carry around the size and weight of an internal combustion engine and fuel tank 24x7 when I would only need it for less than 5% of my trips.

      Range extenders are a great idea, but it should be a mini-trailer or device I hook onto the trunk for long trips, not something built into the car. That doesn't interest me in the slightest.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Oops, I know it looks like I copied your post but I did not read it until I posted above. You must be a very intelligent person as we are both thinking along the same lines.
      • 4 Years Ago
      One thing I am clear about for the future of EV transport is that portable gensets are likely to remain in the realm of the hobbyist, not in general use, save if we have a total financial meltdown verging on Mad Max.
      I am reminded of the hi-fi buffs of my youth, who fussed and fiddled with separates and wired it together themselves, and arranged the whole of their lliving room to suit speaker position.
      Most people, enough so that until you get something simpler it doesn't catch on big time, can't be bothered.
      Most people can't drive, reverse or park their car without a trailer competantly, there is no way that they are going to be able to or want to deal with a trailer.
      In most places in Europe even for decent drivers a trailer system would be a real hassle as soon as you were in a town or village.
      It ain't gonna happen!

      Most of the discussion of REs vs BEVs is in the how long is a piece of string realm, and depends on the comparative rate of technical development in a number of different fields, which we have no way of knowing in advance.
      An air-lithium battery/fuel cell if it can be developed and is cheap enough might take the prize, but is a long way off.

      Looking at the options, ideally in a BEV you would want around 100kwh, to give true highway cruising speed with decent range, and you would like ultra-fast charge.
      The lowest cost of batteries we can be reasonably confident of getting to is around $200kwh, so you are talking $20k for the battery pack, a lot of moolah.
      OTOH if you use a plug-in, then you might need a 12-15kwh battery, so might be able to do it for around $2,400-3,000, and if you went the RE route could certainly do something, say for instance based on the Lotus RE, for a lot less than $17k

      The disadvantage is that you are still paying for and carrying around all the stuff for an ICE.

      You avoid some of this if you use a fuel cell as the range extender, as it is all electric. Nissan say that they develop electric cars, and will fit either batteries or fuel cells, as it just involves switching the drive train, not redesigning the car or most of it's parts.

      You introduce the complications of either an on-board hydrogen tank or an on-board reformer, of course, and if you go for the former a hydrogen infrastructure.

      Most of that could be avoided by the use of high temperature fuel cells, which don't get upset by small impurities and can use petrol.
      They are at a very early stage of development though, and only small sets with around 5kw of power are contemplated at the moment.
      I rather like the idea of them though, and that perhaps would be my pick if given the choice.

      I'd see a whole range of technologies duking it out over the next 15 years though, and predictions based on theoretical ideas often fail to pick the winner.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Timo,
        Getting to 1,000wh/kg will take some doing, and AFAIK refers to energy density at the cell level, not the module level.
        My understanding is that this is pretty well at the limits for current battery chemistries.
        To give some perspective currently you would be talking of perhaps 850kg, so getting that weight reduction is going some.
        More importantly though even optimistic price projections give you around $20,000 for the 100kwh pack.
        Leaving aside the equally thorny issues of fuel cell costs, you could certainly do a small RE on the lines of the Lotus with the exhaust system etc for far less.
        So absent fundamental breakthroughs for reasonably priced cars around 50kwh and $10k seems about the top limit for BEV.
        That gives a nominal range of around 200 miles, and for hard driving and taking into account adverse weather maybe 150 miles.
        That should be plenty for the vast majority of people, given fast chargers dotted around, but for regular long distance RE's would seem the better bet.
        For my personal use a 20-30 mile electric range would be fine for pootling about, and a RE would cover for weekend trips.
        The cost of the battery pack at $200kwh might be around $3,000, and would give me the vast majority of the savings from a much larger pack.
        Others with long commutes would prefer a bigger battery pack.
        • 4 Years Ago
        85kWh with 1000Wh/kg batteries would be only 85 kg:s. I wouldn't call that much. It is certainly less than even small RE + small fuel tank. Think Volt with 300miles with 9 gallon tank. That tank when full would weight around 30 kg. That leaves 55kg for engine and generator. Whole engine. Cooling, exhausts, belts, plugs etc. Actual engine block would be miniscule.

        Also 85kWh battery would be a lot more compact than any RE.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Most of the time people would be carrying around about 85kwh of battery they are not using, Even if you hit 1,000wh kg that is a lot of weight.
        You would still be carrying excess if you went for REs or fuel cells though.
        Perhaps to get a sense of proportion it should be borne in mind that most folk travel most of the time on their own in a car, so there is a lot of waste inherent in the system.

        In places like Europe an the Far East it seems to me that we may move on to a system where people use hire cars, shared cars, phone for shared minicabs in the Taxibus system etc, so that the idea of owning one car individually weakens, and you much more pick a means of getting to a particular destination on a particular occasion, and pick up your transport to suit.
        Under those circumstances personal transport might more resemble the Land Glider that Nissan proposes, with hired upgrades as needed.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I would only want a 100 kwh pack if it was modular. This way I could take half of the pack out and use it to store energy from solar panels. My car would go 450 miles on a 100 kwh pack if the mass weighed the same as my current pack. I don't want to carry around and pay for all those batteries when 35 kwh will work for me 90% plus of the time.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's the first promisingly way to come out of using petrol. People do not buy e-cars which are too expensive an only drive on sundays through the city.

      The industry would produce custom-friendly like it produces cars with different horse-power today. E.g.: Cars are offered with a battery 10/20/40/80 kw. with range extender. Opel-Ampera or the Volt are the first very interesting step.

      There are so many advantages (and of course difficulties which need to be solved) like: No gears, no cluth, no unnessecary running motor at traffic lights...
      Why shouldn't we we use this chance?
      Greetings from Germany
      • 4 Years Ago
      Having a range extender ruins one of the main reasons to get an EV for me. Having no ICE maintenance which is extensive and expensive.

      The temporary range extender trailer, is a complete non starter, as is the even more crazy temporary ICE module you add into the car.

      Real world Solutions:

      BEV (ex Leaf)
      EREV (ex Volt)
      HEV (ex Prius)
      Efficient ICE (ex Fiesta/VW TDI)

      The EREV marries too many of the negatives from both technologies:
      You have all the expense of both a complete ICE system and a HUGE battery. You have all the Mass of both and ICE system and a HUGE battery. You are either driving in battery mode, carrying all the dead weight of an ICE system. Or you are driving in range extender mode carry largely dead weight of the battery.
      You get an EREV if you let "range anxiety" dominate your thinking, or you really don't fit the profile for EV driving but still want to dabble in it for non practical reasons.

      If you want an EV, make sure it really works for you. Make sure it cover you daily use with a large margin (to cover cold weather, extra trips etc.). If you don't easily fit in the range, it is much more sensible to get an HEV or efficient ICE.

      If you do easily fit normal use within the BEV range, then it doesn't make sense to haul around an ICE all the time for the odd occasion. A better choice is to use your other vehicle (most households are multi-car), or rent a regular car.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Well said!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Agreed, well said. Some fence sitters should rent a EV for a week and see what they can and can't do before making their minds up. Unless you have made up your mind to cut the umbilical cord to oil, I suppose the choice is hard. The trade deficit alone should prompt Americans to get off oil, we are talking about our fiscal well being here. People are worried about the national deficit but they won't cut oil consumption to help keep money in this country working for this country. EV's have that mental block that is hard enough to overcome with out FUD being spread via ignorance and those corps who stand to gain the most if EV's are not prolific.

        I want a trailer RE, don't care what you say Snowdog. Paulwest said a trailer RE would be bad to own as it would sit to much, I agree. I need to be able to rent one. We want our trailer RE's!
      • 4 Years Ago
      of course. the right range extender design can be very succesful. it's the obvious design that all car makers would be doing if they weren't entirely clueless (as they are)

      the right engine for motorway cruise power can be very small and neat and it'll be immediately obvious how good it is once the first of these not so bright automakers actually do it.
      leaning up the car will help on many levels but that's two things at once and that's just so unlikely for them to step up to.

      should the cars be done really right they can be so lean that a quick charge pure EV can work entirely without combustion engine provided the quick charge infrastructure is there on key routes.

      the sluggish overweight clumsy conventional pure EV like nissan leaf and such will naturally continue to have limits and as such wont have universal appeal.

      REEV is the easy obvious way to go. I think I've been saying that for a while and of course I'm right. better than Volt implementation is needed though but that's not exactly hard either.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Jason, that's like a janitor telling Einstein that his view of physics is closed minded.
        a lean car with the higest density batteries can go more than 1000km on a charge today. but the batteries would cost a lot, hence not viable commercially. and even 1000km is not enough even assuming the not so bright automakers would make a lean car. which is as likely as a republican being an honest good person. not quite as unlikely as CIA working to make the world a better place but close.
        sure batteries could advance to give even a heavy car 600+km range (400miles) but even then it would be quite expensive batteries and therefore again unviable and even then would quick charge be difficult. 500km charge in 30 minutes is possible only with quite high power levels and high density cells don't like to be charged quicker than 1 hour. could you live with a 1 hour charge time for every 500km drive time in the hypothetical scenario that high power chargers are everywhere? sure. most could probably live with that for the rare times it is needed. will it eventually pan out? yes as I said. is a lean range extender the best option now? absolutely. it allows for viable battery cost. of course I'm right. I'm always right. no matter how many times you and the other petty thoughtless people vote my comments down.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Once again your closed-minded attitude and short-sightedness limits your thinking.

        What if a new battery chemisty is developed that allows a conventional vehicle to travel >400 miles on a charge? What if the quick charging infrastructure starts to build quickly and chargers become commonplace like gas stations are today? What if a new technology comes along that is better than all of the options that we are seeing today?

        Hybrids may rule out for quite some time, but ultimately I think EVs will take the cake in the future. Just because you think one architecture will work better than all others does not make it so. This world is constantly changing beyond what you or I can control or predict, so you need to quit making definitive statements, because when you're wrong on one of them, you're going to feel like a complete moron.
        • 4 Years Ago
        What if the janitor's name is Will Hunting? :-)
        • 4 Years Ago
        Dave, funny : ) I thought of that too. shall we say I left him an opportunity to dazzle me however telephone number odds it is. besides Will Hunting would not easily object to obvious truths. he would side with me. as would Matt Damon who is quite intelligent in real life as well.
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