The BMW Volt?

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Discussions about the similarities between the GM Volt and the BMW i8 have started to make their way to the discussion table. Rightfully so since …

Discussions about the similarities between the GM Volt and the BMW i8 have started to make their way to the discussion table. Rightfully so since Volt program leader Frank Weber left for Munich to head BMWi drive train development under Dr Klaus Draeger in April 2011. However, the timelines and technology between the 2 cars are very different but were developed together.

A little digging on the internet would have explained that BMW and GM could be working together and subsequently not be stepping on each others technologies.

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The GM developed Voltec (E-flex platform) debut in production form in September of 2008 under the charge of Frank Weber. But GM didn’t develop the Voltec platform alone. GM shared development with BMW and Daimler/Chrysler for obvious reasons of keeping costs down. GM first partnered with Daimler/Chrysler in 2004 with the hopes of developing an advanced hybrid system that would compete with the likes of Toyota while giving them the ability to use this technology in trucks, SUVs and large cars. BMW joined this partnership in 2005 and the three companies opened The Hybrid Development center in Troy, MI.

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In 2007 BMW and Daimler/Chrysler expanded their partnership by developing what is today the X6 ActiveHybrid and the BlueHybrid Diesel/hybrid technology for Daimler. Cerebus bought Chrysler from Daimler and the development of the two mode rollout was completely halted. After Chrysler was sold and went through bankruptcy the Advanced powertrain development was restarted. The Daimler BMW partnership ended in 2009.

The result of the BMW/GM/Chrysler collaboration was the two-mode hybrid system. The E-flex powertrain was tested in vehicles from each brand. GM went with the Tahoe, Yukon, Chrysler with the Aspen and Durango. The rollout procedure of this partnership was set up in a way that the company who had invested the most capitol and engineering manpower would get to debut the technology first, in this case, BMW.

BMW is currently using their co-developed technology in their ActiveHybrid series cars, the X6, 3, 5 and 7 series cars. At the moment, Chrysler is deploying their two mode hybrid in a new PHEV (Plug in Hybrid EV) Ram 1500 that is being tested in cities across the US.

The BMW Concept Vision EfficientDynamics debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2009, thrilling show goers with the possibility of a Green Performance BMW far before Weber left GM for Bavaria to develop Advanced Alternate Energy drivetrains. A prototype of what it will be known as the BMW i8 was previewed to a small group of journalists in November of 2010. Our very own Horatiu was given a ride in a the aforementioned prototype.

The drivetrains of the i8 and Volt are different. The Volt started life as an EV with a Range Extending engine, but conflicts within GM quickly forced Weber and his team to change the configuration so that the 1.4 liter Atkinson cycle gas engine drove the front wheels through a clutch and gear system essentially making the Volt a very advanced hybrid.

Those conflicts led to a feeling of betrayal by the Volt engineers. Here is an email excerpt from Chris Chrouch, an engineer who used to work at the Hybrid Development Center.

“When GM received word that other OEMs were working on EV vehicles, they went back to the design team and told them to change the car. The software was redesigned to not regenerate power by braking, it would only run on the power in the batteries until it was low enough that the generator (ICE) was needed. Many of the engineers on the Voltec project felt betrayed by GMs motive to change what was already a completed and perfected vehicle. It was shortly there after the head of the project (Frank Weber) decided to take his expertise and leave for BMW. This makes a great deal of sense given the Volt was using technology designed and funded by the BMW GM Daimler/Chrysler partnership.”

The BMW i8 on the other hand combines the electric drive system of the BMW i3 with an internal combustion engine. A 96 kW (129 hp) electric motor located in the front axle powering the front wheels and at the rear is a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine producing 220 hp and 220 lbs/ft of torque. The result is a combined output of 349 hp allowing the i8 to accelerate from 0-60 in just 4.8 seconds. In the i8, this set up is considered a parallel series hybrid. BMW engineered the i8 to maintain a more exciting feel by having the propulsion effect of RWD.

Another factor that will separate the BMW i8 and i3 from all other green cars on the market will be the extensive use of its carbon fiber reinforced plastics.

With Frank Weber joining BMW, we will be seeing his extensive knowledge of Advanced Drive Trains come through in future BMWs.

Contributors to the article: Chris Chrouch and Hugo Becker

9 responses to “The BMW Volt?”

  1. Gmate says:

    What a load of fabrication. The Volt is a descendent of the EV1, not of the 2-mode hybrid. GM invented 2-mode and then BMW and Daimler-Chrysler asked to join so they could use the system. The Volt was a separate project started by Bob Lutz in 2006 to develop an advanced series hybrid, range extended electric vehicle. 

    The Volt does have regenerative braking. The addition of the clutch assembly to power the wheels was added as it adds 10% efficiency above 70mph, the only time it engages. It was not discussed early on because it was being patented and GM wanted to ensure it would not invalidate its own patents by publishing information pertaining to the system prior to posting the patents with the Patent Office.

    The concept was shown in 2007 and at that time was indicated to run on battery power for up to 40 miles at which time it would use an onboard generator to provide electricity to the wheel motors. The original generator was to be a 1l 3-cylinder engine.

    Furthermore, the Volt does not have an Atkinson engine. GM opted to use one of its off-the-shelf Ecotec 4-cylinder engines, the 1.4. This was so it could get the car out in 2010 as originally planned.

    The reason BMW is now talking to GM is most probably to ensure BMW doesn’t get sued by GM for patent infringement. A wise move since they hired away one of the Volt’s lead designers meaning they would not fare well in patent court.

    • Manny Antunes says:

      “Hired away” LOL Get your stories straight. Frank LEFT!! GM pissed all over him and then expected him to stay?? He already had an established relationship with BMW. The decision was easy. But to imply that BMW is using Volt (Jointly developed) technology is ludicrous. 

      • Gmate says:

        I fail to see how it was “jointly developed”. The lineage is clear and Voltec was a separate technology to the 2-mode. There were no BMW engineers on the Voltec team. And 2-mode was a GM invention, BMW joined after the technology had been developed and worked with GM and Daimler-Chrysler so as to spread the cost of moving it to a variety of platforms (FWD, AWD, RWD, etc.).

        And Weber was hired away. The fact is that you must “leave” even when you’re “hired away” by someone. I know, I’ve been recruited numerous times by other high-tech firms and each time I have to “leave” my existing employer. He was actively recruited. He didn’t quit GM and sit idle for months and then get hired. He was hired away from GM.

        Technology developed by someone remains the property of the firm for which they worked. That’s how IP works. Anything Weber did for GM is their property. Anything he does for BMW, if it looks similar, is open to an infringement suit. The proper course of action, as any executive will tell you, is to come to a deal with the other firm either via IP swaps or monetary compensation so as to be allowed use of the IP. That’s what BMW is in the throes of doing right now. The last thing they need is a lawsuit dropped on their head when they release production versions of the i3 and i8. 

        You can fantasize all you want, but Voltec has nothing and had nothing to do with BMW. BMW worked on the 2-mode with GM, which was also a GM design and not something BMW came up with. BMW is playing catch up. 

        I’ll leave you to your fantasies.

    • Hugo Becker says:

      Atkinson cycle – not Atkinson engine – odd when I talked to Frank Weber in 2009 (when he was championing the Volt prior to the Chicago Autoshow) the Atkinson cycle engine was mentioned. No one said it wasn’t a GM engine. That it came from an Opel is OK in my book.

      If anyone were to make a link between the Volt and a BMW i, you’d point the finger at the i3, not the i8. And the i cars were under development well before Weber left GM to go to BMW.

      Sue – get real – hybrid electric vehicles have been under development for decades, code (software) may be patentable, specific pieces of technology may be patentable, but the concept of a generic hybrid powertrain patent wouldn’t fly – look up the Selden patents if you want to know how that’d end up.

    • Rolitto says:

      Pathetic. BMW is way ahead of GM in terms of technology, safety, and sales. Please compare GM to Chrysler.

  2. Anonymous Driver says:

    Sorry but if the i-series and BMW hybrids have any of this American car company crap in them, then BMW just lost a potential sale. GM/Ford/Chevy/all that same platform rebranded shit are far behind in everything, particularly safety. There were 2 local news stories which involved deaths in accidents, both were Ford vehicles, which should never have happened: A truck hit the back of a Ford Mustang, girl sitting in the back died and a sedan hitting and spinning a Ford Expedition, lady in passenger side died when vehicle hit a pole. And how about that freeway accident with the 4 girls in a Chevy.

    Thanks but no thanks. At least we see Porsches hitting telephone poles and their drivers coming out of the door going LOLOLOL. And Mercedes Benzes and BMW’s flying off the Autobahn at insane speeds but their passengers were unhurt.

    Also efficiency, handling and power sucks on American cars. That old Jeremy Clarkson saying still holds true; the only useful thing they do is travel fast in a straight line.

    What I’m saying is if safety is crap on those cars and performance is questionable, I don’t think anyone in the right mind would buy a European car with inferior non-European crap in it. No, just no.

    • Askia says:

       Although I also prefer German cars, it’s just sad to read comments like this.  Are you implying that all American cars are unsafe? Funny how many American cars do quite well during crash testing and receive high safety ratings, yet you make misinformed blanket statements like the one above.  And as far as efficiency goes, you sir, are mistaken again.  I mean, just look at the stats for domestic SPORTS cars like the Corvette or Camaro let alone hybrids, economy cars, and family cars.  Do some research before you post next time.  Handling and power sucks on American cars? LOL!! Are you stuck in the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s? Mustangs are beating M3s around the track these days! I love how brand snobs like yourself assume that anything foreign has to be an improvement over everything domestic. And, oh, let me guess….YOU are American, right? Keep sending your cash overseas when our own economy is going down the crapper because of citizens who feel and act as you do.  Again, I love European cars but I would never refer to domestics as “inferior non-European crap”.

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