Plug In and Charge Up: BMW’s Electric Cars are the Foundation of Its Future

Bmw Electric Cars
The BMW iVision concept luxury sedan. Image: BMW

The Ultimate Driving Machine plans to electrify your future, too! 

If you thought Tesla had the all-electric luxury car market cornered, think again. BMW has joined other car makers in declaring their love for electrification and dedication to making it happen, both in the US and around the globe.

BMW is fortifying its electric-driven car lineup, which already has a nice selection of plug-ins and electric cars, with the goal of rolling out 25 models, including MINI models, with some level of electrification by 2025. Framed by the ultra-luxe hybrid electric i8 sports car and the all-electric i3, the brand intends to fill out the lineup with electric or hybrid models in every category.

This is because consumers and governments around the world are focusing on the environment and as a result, electric vehicles are gaining in popularity. And as legislation changes to reflect this change, these vehicles will become a necessity in some markets. Changing regulation and infrastructure will play an important role in determining the scale of electrification necessary from one market to another.

For example, some German cities are considering banning diesel and future legislation is unpredictable. It’s up to automakers to develop reliable cars that run on little or no gasoline and still perform as well as a traditional gas engine.

So BMW announced a plan to bring such vehicles to the market. And they plan to do it while maintaining their reputation as the ultimate driving machine.

Check out the MINI Countryman S E plug-in hybrid 

Bmw Electric Cars

The BMW i3’s doors open from the center of the car, one of the model’s innovative features. Photo: Scotty Reiss

EV, BEV, PHEV, Hybrid – What Does It All Mean?

There are several criteria to meet for a vehicle to be categorized as electric. Here’s a breakdown on the types of  electric vehicles, or EVs, available:

  • Conventional hybrids are powered by both a gasoline engine and an electric motor. While these vehicles have an oversized hybrid battery, they can’t be plugged in and recharged. Instead, their batteries are charged by capturing energy when braking, using regenerative braking that converts kinetic energy into electricity.
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are similar to conventional hybrids in that they have both an electric motor and internal combustion engine. But, PHEV batteries can be charged by plugging into an outlet. Which means, unlike conventional hybrids, PHEVs can substitute electricity from the grid for gasoline. Typically they have a range of 10-50 miles on electric, and when the electricity runs out, the gas engine takes over.
  • Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) run exclusively on electricity via onboard batteries that are charged by plugging into an outlet or charging station. These vehicles have no gasoline engine, longer electric driving ranges compared to PHEVs, and never produce tailpipe emissions.

It’s worth noting that all these systems also produce reduced or zero emissions, so as an added bonus, they reduce tailpipe pollution.

Is an electric vehicle right for your family? Read more to decide.

Bmw Electric Cars

The BMW 330e plug in, which combines a gas engine and a plug-in battery for max MPG and performance. Photo: Scotty Reiss

BMW’s Streamlined Plan for Electrification

BMW will introduce 25 electric vehicles by 2025, and 12 of those will be BEVs. The key to this is flexibility: building vehicles that can meet the standards of BMW and also, allow for electrification of more models by allowing one or more types of EV systems to be used.

The approach is different from most of today’s electric vehicles, which were “born electric,” meaning they were created specifically to be electric cars.

However, by 2021, BMW will move away from the born electric vehicles to a “one platform serves all” approach. This means that production facilities will be enabled to build models with a traditional gas combustion engine, a plug-in hybrid, or a pure electric vehicle at the same time. This approach to building a model that can serve all purposes will mean buyers can have the X5 of their choice, and they don’t have to compromise style and performance for fuel type. BMW accomplishes this by configuring a modular battery systems on the car’s undercarriage. And by giving each car a bit more ground clearance and more room for the battery, the amount of battery capacity can be added, or not, depending on customer demands.

Innovation is in the “i” and Beyond

You might be used to the “i” in many BMW models, which stands for ‘injection’ as in fuel injection. But more and more, “i” stands for innovation. Expect this line to grow. As the company develops new systems and innovations, these will fall under the i brand lineup. Then as the technology takes hold, it will be incorporated into the rest of the model lineup.

Building on the success of i8 and i3, in the next few years BMW will roll out the iVision full-sized electric sedan and the iNext, a fully autonomous sedan. Concept drawings show a look that is considerably different than other lines of BMW vehicles. The company will also take cues and learning from the company’s investment in Formula E, the all electric racing series that challenges participants to get the most performance from its systems.

Efficiency can be fun too; we took a look at the new BMW X2 AWD hatchback

Bmw Electric Cars

Our group in the BMW i3, which had plenty of room for us all as well as our gear. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Key to the Future: Faster Charging and More Efficient Electrification

BMW has focused its development in another area, too: Batteries that charge faster and driving systems that recapture and store more power. Drivers will find more systems like the i3’s ‘one pedal driving’ in which the brake is rarely used; instead, when the driver lifts her foot from the accelerator, the engine slows by re-directing energy away from the engine and back into the battery, effectively slowing the car. We took a drive in the i3 and found this to not only be a great way to control speed, but it was fun to see your battery range go up rather than just down.

The other area of focus is more efficient batteries: more storage and faster recharging. This means that you’ll be able to go further on a charge and spend less time in the charging dock between drives. The iVision concept is intended to have a range of 350+ miles on a charge, and as a standard, BMW is shooting for 80% recharge in 30 minutes at a level 3 or 4 charge station, which should be the standard soon.

The Bottom Line: Awesome is Awesome, No Matter How It’s Fueled

From one pedal driving–I’m a fan!– to blow-your-hair-back power on the track–I’m a huge fan of this too!– it takes power, and how you derive it is just as important as what you do with it.

We tested out the i3 on city streets and found it fun, peppy and loved the innovative design details: from unusual materials to ‘suicide’ doors that open outwards, it all has a more social feel. It was pleasant to drive, even loaded with cargo and three of us in the car, including a back seat rider who was 6’3″.

We also tested out the 330e plug in sports sedan. As a fan of the 3 series sedans, which are smaller and a bit more agile than its larger siblings, I found it capable, nicely powered and fun to drive. And would I appreciate getting a boost in MPG from a battery pack? You betcha. I’d be happy to plug my car in every night for added power and mileage.

Getting out of the charge bay and back on the road is the goal, always, and with 25 EVs in the lineup by 2025 to chose from, the future certainly is bright!

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss