Detroit Auto Show gave BMWBLOG the unique and exclusive opportunity to interview Dr. Klaus Draeger, BMW AG board member and Chief of Research & Development. We sat down with Herr Draeger to discuss about the future of BMW i, carbon-fiber, front-wheel drive vehicles, three cylinder engines, and other interesting topics.

BMWBLOG: What is the future of CFRP (carbon fiber) for BMW?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: The first series of carbon fiber will be used for the construction of the complete body of the BMW i3. Currently we already have some experience with carbon-fiber: we are using carbon fiber on the roof of the M3 and on other parts of the M products, like the crash beam of the bumper, but in terms of production, we will see it in BMW i3 and i8.

Let’s have a more detailed look at the i3. We started to understand e-mobility with the MINI E project. The basic understanding behind this project was related to how many km per day do customers drive, in terms of desired range, how they use the car, how often do they recharge, if are they concerned about the range, and so on. In a nutshell we found out that they’re using it basically like they use a normal MINI or a normal BMW 116i: driving it daily, in Germany, for about 38-40 km, and each single driver driving roughly between 8-10 km.

The technology we use on the MINI E was basically more or less standard technology – we used the standard lithium-ion cells which are in most of the laptops and other electronics or electric motors.

The purpose was to understand e-driving. Consumers worried about the range at the beginning, but afterwards they saw that 150-160 km are absolutely sufficient as range. This was basically starting all the our activities in terms of pure electric driving.

The second project we are running is BMW ActiveE, where we are actually testing the whole drivetrain of the BMW i. So we are using the same cells as we will use in the BMW i3, the same ECU and the same electric motor.

Looking at something specific now, if you convert a conventional car into an electric car, it doesn’t work. The reason is that the engine of a conventional car, the gearbox, the cooling system, the exhaust system, etc., everything is so large and it doesn’t fit the engine compartment.

When you’re taking that stuff out, and leave just the electric motor there, you will have lots of spaces there, but you can’t fit the battery in there because it causes real problems in a crash. You try to fit the battery somewhere else, usually where the fuel tank is. The fuel tank it’s pretty small – 50-60 liters, which means also 60 kg, while the battery is – depending on the size – large and heavy.

So you have to try to rebuild the car out. The result is that ActiveE has a weight of roughly 1800 kg, and the i3, which is a purpose-built electric vehicle, will have a 1250 kg. And this was the same electric motor, with the same ECU, and almost the same battery – it’s a bit smaller, because we could reduce the weight, because actually we don’t need much battery capacity aboard.

And this shows why weight is so important, and therefore we have done two things:

  1.  We have an architecture that is specifically designed for this vehicle: we have the battery in the floor space, the electric motor and the ECU in the rear of the car, but we can keep the electric motor pretty low on the ECU, so that there is still a luggage compartment. We have a small luggage compartment in the front and we have space for four persons.
  2. Using carbon fiber in that case helps further reducing the weight, and this leads to reducing the amount of battery. So the tradeoff I get from reducing the weight of the electric vehicle is much bigger than in case of the conventional car. And this was the idea then, starting to use carbon fiber in the i3, as a real product for the life cell, while the drive module is this aluminum chassis with a battery and the front and the rear axle.
“We will bring carbon fiber as well for BMW-whatever-next-7 Series”

BMWBLOG: How much more fiber production capacity do you think is needed for the CFRP to go mainstream?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: The next product that will actually come after the i3 will be the i8. We will have almost the same technology there, but as you know, the i8 is a plug-in hybrid, so compared to the i3 it will have less battery capacity and we’ll fit that battery capacity basically into the tunnel, having the seats as low as possible. So the middle structure was a tunnel, then all the battery will be from aluminum and the front and rear axle from aluminum as well, and then the complete life module will be made of carbon fiber.

At that moment we will have a look at how far we will be, for later products. We will bring carbon fiber as well for BMW-whatever-next-7 Series, but I think it will be important to have the right material mix, have high-strength steel, aluminum, and in addition to it, carbon fiber. If we look at the current 7 Series, we have quite some aluminum parts: the doors, the front fenders, the bonnet and the roof. What is not from aluminum are the structural items – the engine carriage parts and the firewall because there we have a very good strength, from the high-tense steel. Sometimes it’s even quite useful, because on the old 5 Series we have the frontpad completely in aluminum, and if the crash loads are becoming higher and higher, due to regulations, we have seen it is even lighter to use high-strength steel instead of aluminum, because you can reduce the thickness of the material.

BMWBLOG: What conventional engine will the BMW i8 be using?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: We will stick to the 3 cylinder engine, but we’ll change over from a diesel to a petrol. The reason for that is that we have quite some areas in the world where the diesel is not the preferred fuel. And in order not to develop both a diesel and a gasoline version, we decided to choose the gasoline version, because the fuel consumption is pretty low anyway, and on the other side we would also be able to increase the power. So currently we’re looking at 164 kW output out of this 1.5 liter 3-cylinder gasoline turbocharged engine, with all the high-tech features.

BMWBLOG: Since you mentioned different fuels, how will BMW deal with flex-fuels, additional ethanol current blends, bio-diesel?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: It is something we are looking into. We have already released our engines for Europe for 15% ethanol, and we’ve released them up to 7% biodiesel into the conventional diesel, which is B7. We think it would be pretty critical to go beyond B7, but if we carefully look at the process of diesel processing, we can go to any amount of biodiesel, if the biodiesel is completely processed with the rest of the diesel. What is not a good idea is to have the biodiesel produced, and then mix it with the diesel. If the biodiesel goes through the refining process, then one can probably use any diesel content. Otherwise we don’t see more than 7, maybe 10%.

In terms of ethanol and flex fuel, this is definitely a project for us, we’re working on that. Currently B15 is not a problem in Europe; all the engines, including older engines are released to run on a B15. We think that within a short timeframe we’ll have an engine that can run E85 or maybe E100.

BMWBLOG: What will be the next BMW family that will make use of the N37 3-cylinder engine?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: We said we’re developing a new engine series, and the idea is to have 500 cc per cylinder, because this makes a lot of sense. This of course has a lot of synergies, because then you have 1.5 liter – 3 cylinder, 2 liter – 4 cylinder, and 3 liters – 6 cylinders, using always the same components, but just multiplying 3 times, 4 times or 6 times, meaning pistons, injection valves, valves, springs, etc.

The first vehicle to have the 3-cylinder engine will be the new front-wheel drive architecture, which we will have in 2013 for the MINI.

BMWBLOG: What is the main driver that has made BMW look at the front wheel drive platform?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: We have a lot of front-wheel drive experience. Going back to the days when the R75 was developed for BMW, in terms of the chassis that was a very good vehicle. Secondly was the MINI experience, an extremely good feedback we’re getting from all our customers, as well as when I read the articles about how the MINI drives, and everybody is happy with the car.

“The first vehicle to have the 3-cylinder engine will be the new front-wheel drive architecture”

So we know how a front-wheel drive should operate and how it should drive. What is important of course is that if we are in a sensitive price segment, to have economies of scale. Just as it is the case with the 3 Series, which is probably the biggest single rear-wheel drive architecture currently in the world, we also need to have synergies on the front-wheel drive.

When we started with MINI, we didn’t have the full idea of that MINI could be, and we started building the MINI hatch – that was the first car. Now we see how we can develop MINI further: the MINI Countryman has come, the different MINI smaller vehicles were just launched, we had the Clubman, and so on. And we have more ideas to come.

Now the point is simply: “if we have to do that, we need a front wheel drive architecture” and we said: “Okay, there are also concept ideas where this front-wheel drive architecture can very well be used for BMW products”. It’s not the classic BMW products that we already have on the market, but the idea is to expand our product range. Let’s think of something like the Mercedes B-Class – we have nothing to compete in that area, and the advantage of the front-wheel drive architecture is that you save about 122-150 mm in car space, meaning that a car which is actually 120-150 mm shorter than the rear-wheel drive architecture gives the customers the same inside length, just because the front part of the car is shorter.

BMWBLOG: How do you best take the coming convergence of the virtual and real worlds into account when building the next generation of cars? (ConnectedDrive is 1.0)

Dr. Klaus Draeger: We’re continuously going to develop this. And there are more and more things to come in, in different areas: it is about convenience, safety, connectivity. Let’s just look at a couple of things. Currently we have a radar system where we can measure the distance between cars, so that the vehicle can then follow and keep a safe distance and so on. The next step will be adding camera systems to it, so that we can also recognize objects that are standing still.

Another example is that at the moment we have the lane-change controls. The next thing would be that in a traffic jam situation or in very heavy traffic, to allow the driver not only to actively drive, but to control its drive. This means that the car follows the car in front; it keeps the lane and just follows the vehicle. These are all ideas that are coming also with the BMW i, and we will spread them to the other cars, as well.

“The next step will be adding camera systems to it, so that we can also recognize objects that are standing still”

BMWBLOG: BMW i. What are the expectations for short term and long-term? How does BMW differentiate itself from all these competitors coming up with electric cars?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: I’ll try to answer that in a nutshell. We see more and more customers that have the clear wish for premium mobility and absolute sustainability, and this is exactly what we want to give them with the BMW i – either the i3 or the i8. Sustainability starts right after the development process and goes to the suppliers, to the BMW production and of course afterwards to the usage of the car, until it comes to the end of the resulting process.

BMWBLOG: If you want to describe to a customer, how would you differentiate a typical BMW vehicle from other electric vehicles, like Nissan Leaf?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: I think the best thing is to have a look at the Leaf and to look at the i3 – its design, functionality, how the car feels. I don’t want to discuss about the competitors, but if I look at the Nissan Leaf, it’s pretty much a normal car, in terms of how the car is built, made of steel and so on. And this is another important thing, because if we take the BMW approach with the carbon fiber – which is produced in Washington state with hydropower – the way we produce the vehicle in Leipzig with renewable energy, this gives a whole lifetime a reduced CO2 emission. And this CO2 emission incorporates production, components, and the energy usage during lifetime, which is depending on which energy mix you are choosing for electric energy, by 30-50% lower than a conventional vehicle. And this is what I mean with sustainable driving.

BMWBLOG: Do you think a competitive price would speed up the adoption of BMW electric vehicles?

Dr. Klaus Draeger: Of course that we know that the vehicles are price-sensitive. We can’t talk today about a price range, but we know that we have to choose the right price, because otherwise we are not going to make sales.

BMWBLOG: Dr. Draeger, thank you very much for your time!