Oliver Krämer is one of the professionals at BMW who has a solid understanding of what the future holds. He works as the concept drive systems development engineer, which means that he develops systems that will be integrated into BMWs, one or two car generations into the future.
What does the future hold for BMW? Plug-in hybrids or something else?
Plug-in hybrids are actually the present, so we are going a step or two further. But plug-in hybrid technology, in the same or a different form, is still the future. It will still be here in 2020, or even later.
Do you think that plug-in hybrid technology will only be temporarily in use, until the range of full-electric cars is increased, or does it have a future for 10 or more years?
There will be more electric cars, of course, but this does not mean the end for plug-in hybrids. The plug-in hybrid today, and in the near future, means that the majority of the car's capacity is provided by the internal combustion engine, and only a small part is provided by the electric motor. In time, this ratio will change. Our concept car, the Power eDrive, demonstrates this. Electric motors provide two-thirds of its power, and the classical engine only one third. The majority of the capacity and dynamics are provided by electricity. Instead of using electricity as an accessory when more power is needed, the internal combustion engine will become the accessory, when you need more range. It is basically necessary to combine the capacity of the electric motor with that of the gas engine and the size of the battery. Then we can ensure power from 150 to around 500 kW, and also achieve similar ranges.
In principle, the plug-in hybrids will come close to range extenders, in terms of function?
Yes, but there are differences. A range extender is linearly connected to the electric motor, so the gas engine does not drive the car, it only provides the electricity, therefore the versatility of this concept is limited. The plug-in hybrid is more adaptable: the gas engine can not only provide electricity, but it can also add power to the system, and it directly connects to the wheels. Our Power eDrive has two electric motors, one for each axle, and one axle (the rear axle in the i8, for example) is directly driven by the gas engine. And you also have four-wheel drive. This is the essence – the flexibility. With such a system, the car can work as an electric car, as a hybrid, or as a car with a range extender.
Will such a concept still be usable 10 years from now?
Of course. We have merely developed it, it will take some time to get it to serial production, and we are not developing it for only one generation of vehicles. It has a long and bright future.
So it will only exist together with an electric drive?
Of course, the selection of the drive type depends on the needs and demands of the buyer. If you need a car only for daily errands, where you don't drive more than 60, 70 or 80 kilometers, an electric car definitely has advantages in terms of driving features and effectiveness. This is the best option for such purposes. When we talk about greater distances, greater ranges and bigger cars, then you have the Power eDrive that provides a combination of electric effectiveness and range, as well as the travel comfort of a plug-in hybrid. But, the term "greater distances" must be defined. And what combinations of drives we use for them, too. Of course, you have to use the right means for the right purpose. Even today, when we are talking about internal combustion engines, a diesel engine is better for longer routes, and a gas engine for city driving. Buyers choose what they need. It's the same story when we talk about electric or plug-in hybrids: the selection must depend on the purpose. Even if we extend the range of the electric car, i.e. to 5000 or more kilometers, we will never satisfy all the needs. So it is sometimes pointless to go too far, because we have alternatives that are perfect for certain uses. And, of course, the user must exploit the technology properly. A plug-in hybrid will be more than suitable for someone who only drives a few kilometers per day, even 10 or 20, as long as the car is charged in between, if this is a possibility. If the owner does this, they essentially have an electric car that can easily be used for longer drives, without paying for the technology necessary for greater ranges of full-electric cars. And vice versa: there will be buyers in the future who do not need more than 50 or 100 kilometers' range – and they can choose a basic electric car. Such a car does not require the mass or the price of a plug-in hybrid or fuel cell or batteries that are necessary for several hundred kilometers' range. Some buyers of the 1 series, mostly the 118d, allowed us to keep track of their daily distances. And you know what? Despite the fact that they were driving diesel engines, they rarely drove more than 100 kilometers a day, and they drove more than 150 kilometers a day only a few times a year. So they could drive the Power eDrive on electricity for most of the time, or they could have an electric car and use other mobile solutions those few times a year.
The essence is in an extended range?
Right, the future will bring battery electric cars, fuel cell cars and plug-in hybrids. Different cars for different purposes, but it is not necessary for a buyer to have one of each of them, right?
What about diesel cars and their use in hybrids? Considering the latest trends in Europe, where they are less desirable, they probably have no future?
The potential of a gas engine, especially within the hybrid drivetrain, is greater than the potential of diesel. More highly-developed drivetrains and the transition to more electric and less gas power and consumption means that the absolute differences between gas and diesel engines, in this context, are becoming less and less significant, because most of the drive is provided by electricity for most of the time.