A week before unveiling the all-new iNext battery-electric vehicle, BMW said it will “realign” its strategy and begin developing a unique architecture solely for “electric drives,” rather than sharing the same platform for vehicles using both battery and conventional gas and diesel powertrains.
That’s a complete about face for the Bavarian marque which, in recent years, had hoped to save money and simplify manufacturing by coming up with common architectures that could roll off the same line. But it also marks a return to BMW’s original strategy when electrified models like the all-electric i3 city car and plug-in hybrid i8 sports car used unique platforms.
“The aim is to create an overall optimum with the new architecture,” CEO Oliver Zipse said during BMW’s quarterly earnings presentation on Wednesday.
Over the past decade, the auto industry has gone back and forth on the appropriate approach to developing electrified vehicles, pure battery-electric models, in particular. Some, like the Ford Focus Electric and the Volkswagen e-Golf, shared common platforms with the gas and diesel versions of those vehicles. Others, such as the original BMW i models, as well as the new Ford Mustang Mach-E and VW ID.3, used unique architectures.
Each approach had both pluses and minuses. Shared platforms result in design compromises, often limiting the amount of batteries that could be stored on a vehicle – impacting range, among other things. But development costs can be held down, while increasing the flexibility of a company’s assembly lines.
Unique platforms, most adopting a skateboard-style layout with batteries and motors mounted below the load floor, can handle larger packs, increasing range and lowering a vehicle’s center of gravity. But that means additional development costs and the tooling up of plants dedicated solely to EVs.
With an upcoming wave of new products BMW had aimed for a compromise strategy. They use flexible platforms that can squeeze more batteries under the load floor for models like the all-electric i4 fastback due out next year. But there’s space for a conventional internal combustion engine for products such as the next BMW 4-Series.
Now, , “We will realign our vehicle architecture from the middle of the decade,” said Zipse, adding that, “Our new cluster architecture is geared towards electric drives” exclusively.
“Our new plant in Hungary plays a key role here,” said the CEO, noting that production of “the new BEV-centered architecture will start there.”
The plan is to make the new strategy a high priority, an all-new product development operation reporting directly to Zipse. But it will be able to reach out to all other areas within the company, from engineering to sales and marketing which “gives us more control and makes us much faster,” he explained.
The shared platform strategy had come under intense scrutiny within BMW, noted German magazine Automobilwoche, Over the summer, Manfred Wochs, the head of the BMW Works Council, had warned that it resulted in “too many compromises” that could set BMW back competitively, especially in key markets like the U.S. and China.
BMW is racing to get a leg up in an emerging market segment that currently is dominated by the upstart Tesla – with an assortment of traditional competitors, as well as start-ups like Lucid, Fisker and Rivian, aiming to gain share.
But Zipse insisted that BMW will be ready when its new EVs hit market around 2025. “We anticipate that the demand for fully electric vehicles will continue to increase significantly from 2025 onwards. Exactly then – keyword timing – we will ignite phase III of our transformation.”