Munich is home to BMW. It is also home to the IAA trade show, an annual event that is very similar to the CES extravaganza that brings thousands to Las Vegas each year. Both are showcases for the latest in technology, and today much of that geewizardy is incorporated into automobiles.
At this year’s IAA show, which begins officially on September 5, BMW will feature its most recent Neue Klasse electric sedan concept, which previews the EVs it says will be in showrooms starting in 2025. Lead times in the auto industry are long, which suggests the concept is quite close to what we can expect to see when actual production models based on the Neue Klasse architecture appear.
The BMW Neue Klasse concept is a sharply chiseled four-door sedan that features a large greenhouse that incorporates echoes of former sedans from the historic Bavarian automaker. There are no creases and crinkles in the sheet metal, no character lines pressed into the skin that start in random locations and then crash into themselves along the flanks of a vehicle. (Even Tesla has fallen victim to this silliness in some of its models.)
What is mercifully absent in the concept is the great honking pig snout grilles that have been featured on many new BMW models in the past few years. The company’s trademark twin kidney grille is now horizontal, not vertical, and incorporates the headlights as well. More about those headlights in a moment.
At the back is a sharp break between the rear window and the rather short trunk that is reminiscent of what some referred to somewhat unkindly as the “Bangle bustle” that was a hallmark of BMW sedans for many years. The tail lights echo the front grille, spanning nearly the entire width of the car. They are composed of a number of 3D-printed layers meant to convey a sense of depth when viewed from astern.
BMW Batteries & Efficiency
As we reported last year, BMW has elected to transition away from the prismatic cells it used previously in favor of cylindrical cells that are 46 mm in diameter. Unlike Tesla, which used 4680 cells that are 80 mm long, BMW says it will use a variety of cell lengths, depending on which cars they are powering. SUVs may get 46120 cells, while sedans may utilize 4695 cells. There are reports that Samsung is developing 4640 and 4660 battery cells for a “major European manufacturer.”
The new battery cells are said to offer 20% more energy density than the prismatic cells used previously. The goal is to improve range by 30% compared to the company’s current electric cars, which suggests the goal is roughly 400 miles of range. Much of that increase is the result of new heating and cooling systems that utilize heat pump technology.
The new platform can accept 260 kW of power for shorter charging sessions, and the company says cold weather performance is improved by a whopping 40%, due largely to being able to heat the interior using less energy, one suspects. Cold weather performance has become a huge issue for people considering an electric car who live in places where winter is a fact of life, so taking away some of the fear associated with cold weather driving is hugely important for the success of the EV revolution.
Technology Abounds Inside
The interior of the Neue Klasse concept is where BMW showcases its technological prowess. The steering wheel is square rather than round and the touchscreen is trapezoidal rather then rectangular — both silly affectations — but the concept features what the company calls Panoramic Vision. It’s a heads-up display that spreads across the entire bottom of the windshield, allowing both driver and passenger a clear view of all pertinent information without having to look down.
The company says Panoramic Vision will work with polarized glasses, which has been an issue with some other heads-up displays. BMW also claims best-in-class interactive voice controls for all essential vehicle systems.
The front headlights are programmed to offer a three-dimensional greeting when the driver approaches. They can also be used to communicate with pedestrians and bicyclists. E-link strips along the lower portion of the side windows also light up to show exactly where to touch the glass in order to open the doors.
The seats are trimmed in a mustard colored corduroy material, part of a desire by BMW to make its interiors from more sustainable materials. In fact, the company is focused on making its automobiles fully recyclable. It is collaborating with the German government on a Car2Car project that explores the circular economy in car manufacturing. Working with experts from the recycling sector, commodities processors, and the scientific community, the company is actively seeking ways to raise the caliber of secondary raw materials produced through the recycling of vehicles that have reached the end of their useful life.
BMW Welcomes Chinese Competition
During the press event leading up to this year’s IAA show, BMW CEO Oliver Zipse told CNBC he was not at all concerned about the number of Chinese automakers in attendance. “No, we are not afraid at all. That is a sign of attractiveness when global players like the Chinese, which is the largest car market in the world, come here to Munich and showcase what they want. It is far more than auto, this is a tech show, this is an innovation show,” Zipse said.
“And I think to have everyone here, the Americans, the Europeans and now also the Chinese, is super exciting. You hear it in my words already, I’m more excited, and I’m not afraid at all, and it is good that we have a show which attracts a lot of competition. That’s super.”
He added that battery electric vehicles will represent 15% of the carmaker’s worldwide sales by the end of 2023 and that “we will increase that further next year and the year after next.” That’s wonderful news for those of us who want to see the EV revolution succeed, but it seems to lack the sense of urgency most of us feel is necessary.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but to our eye, the Neue Klasse concept seems a little bland. The speculation in the press is that it is about the size of the current 3 Series cars from BMW, which suggests this may be the battery-powered alternative to that traditional BMW sedan that is the company’s best selling model. That makes it crucial for the company to get the new car right.
Final specs and pricing are still a long way in the future. The good news here is that BMW is making big strides in efficiency and recyclability. Whether those features will be enough to attract customers in the numbers needed for commercial success remains to be seen.
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