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BMW Considering (Gasp!) A Dedicated Electric Vehicle Chassis

Insiders at BMW are begging the company to develop a new chassis designed for electric cars. But the company says it is “optimally positioned.”

Yes, folks, it’s official. People inside the time warp known as BMW headquarters in Munich are thinking way, way outside the box and saying the company should consider building a dedicated electric car platform! Be still, my beating heart. Has the whole world gone mad with this electric car fever? The answer, apparently, is yes.

Photo by Zach Shahan/CleanTechnica

Way back in 2013, when the whole electric car notion was still a radical idea, BMW shocked the automotive world with the i3, a car so far ahead of its time that it instantly established BMW as one of the leaders in the field. Not only was it all-electric, it was also one of the first cars to use carbon fiber as a primary component of its chassis.

Then the roof fell in. The i3 was critically short of range at a time when EV chargers were as scarce as an honest politician. The company tried to make up for that shortcoming by offering an onboard range extender engine, but that idea was adversely affected by the US EPA, which ordered the company to alter the software controlling the REx engine so it couldn’t turn on until the battery was below 10% state of charge.

By that point, the engine could either charge the battery or power the car, but it couldn’t do both. Reports of i3s chugging up hills in the breakdown lane while being passed by tractor trailers were enough to make prospective buyers think twice. The high price and funky styling didn’t help either. Sales of the i3 languished and the company has failed to update the car enough to attract many new customers.

In the meantime, BMW management has recoiled in horror at how quickly the i3 program went wrong and decided to concentrate its efforts to electrify its lineup on building plug-in hybrid versions of existing cars. And so BMW now proudly touts products that try to be all things to all people. Almost all of its offerings can be had with either a diesel or gasoline engine, with a plug-in hybrid option thrown in almost as an afterthought.

Now Reuters, citing a report by Der Spiegel, reports some members of the BMW board of management are urging the company to stop pussyfooting around with the electric car revolution and start developing a dedicated chassis designed from the ground up for electric cars and only electric cars. Enough of this “one size fits all” thinking. It’s time to go big or go home.

“Only with our own e-architecture can we fully exploit the advantages of an electric vehicle,” says Manfred Schoch, head of the council. He is absolutely correct, of course. Think of how absurd it would be if Tesla offered its cars with a choice of batteries or diesel engines. It is to laugh at, right? BMW today is like an aircraft manufacturer offering planes that have both piston and jet engines.

Ready or not, the revolution is here, folks. It’s too late to pine for the good old days when BMW could sell as many 3 Series cars as it could weld, bolt, and screw together. BMW never sold as many cars as Mercedes-Benz or Volkswagen or Toyota, but it built automobiles that were almost jewel-like in quality and performance. Its strength was making incredible internal combustion engines. The BMW dual overhead cam 6-cylinder engine may stand forever as the highest expression of internal combustion technology.

But the calendar has turned and BMW is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Capitalist theory posits the notion of creative destruction. New companies are born that exploit new ideas. Eventually, they force traditional companies to change and the world of commerce experiences a paradigm shift. Think what Microsoft did to IBM, what Apple did to Blackberry, and what Tesla is doing to every other carmaker.

But as those startups mature, they become fixated on market share and stop innovating. That’s when they get overtaken by the next wave of new companies bringing fresh ideas to the table. BMW has crafted some of the finest automobiles ever made and that is to its eternal credit. But by failing to embrace the EV revolution fully, and with all its passion put into making conventional cars, it is sowing the seeds of its own destruction.

Some in the company see what’s going on and want the company to pivot to what’s happening now instead of resting on its richly deserved but now outdated laurels. The reality is BMW may have already waited too long. If it is just starting to think about a dedicated chassis for electric cars, that means the first vehicles based on that chassis won’t be available for 5 to 7 years — in which case, BMW is already so far behind that it may never catch up.

The arrogance of entrenched thinking is on full display in the upper levels of the company. When asked by Reuters for a comment about the Der Speigel story, a spokesperson for BMW said it was “optimally positioned” and declined to comment on speculation about internal discussions. Put a fork in BMW, folks. It’s done.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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