Let there be no doubt, BMW is serious about electric vehicles.
"We believe that for the United States, this is going to be very important." – Julian Arguelles
The German automaker said this week it will make plug-in hybrid versions of all of its core models, an aggressive move that demonstrates its commitment to electric propulsion systems. BMW did not specify which vehicles will get the plug-in systems or provide a timeline for when they will arrive.
But the announcement is clearly more than blustering, and the company revealed a 3 Series plug-in prototype this week at an event in France. BMW said the 3 Series uses a version of its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (240 horsepower, 300 pound feet of torque) with an electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission in place of the torque converter. It has an all-electric range of 22 miles. A plug-in X5 with the same powertrain was also displayed alongside the 3 Series, though the X5 has been on the auto-show circuit for more than a year, including a recent stop in Los Angeles.
Those two vehicles use "eDrive," and BMW's plans represent the first widespread transfer of its technology from development of the i3 and i8 models to more mainstream products.
BMW said it's developing electric powertrains so they can be deployed rapidly across its range, and they are flexible enough to be used with fuel cells in future products.
Enticingly, BMW is also working on a "Power eDrive" system, which debuted in a 5 Series GT concept at the event in France. This setup has two electric motors powered by a 20-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and when teamed with a four-cylinder turbo, pump out about 670 hp.
Reinforcing BMW's commitment, the company will add more than 200 jobs at its factory in Dingolfing, Germany, to support electric-vehicle development. The moves come as BMW and other automakers diversify their portfolios while fuel economy and emissions regulations are getting tighter around the world. The United States has set a 54.5-mpg CAFE requirement for the 2025 model year. BMW said the electric vehicles were developed with an eye toward the US market, its government policies and its wide-ranging commuting styles.
"We believe that for the United States, this is going to be very important," spokesman Julian Arguelles said.
Ben Scott, a senior analyst in London with automotive research firm IHS, said BMW's moves are expensive – but necessary – to keep pace with the market. The automaker's German rivals, Volkswagen Group and Mercedes-Benz, have increasingly stressed electric propulsion.
"Ultimately, it comes down to consumer preferences, and plug-in electric hybrids are one step toward making that full electrification," he told Autoblog.
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