BMW has always prided itself on being at least one of the leaders of the automotive world in terms of technology – from a proper infotainment system (iDrive) to a new electric cars sub-division – the Bavarians have always pushed the envelope. In the last few years, the buzzword in the automotive world was the 48-volt electric systems, a technology that some of BMW’s competitors are currently using.

So what exactly is a 48-volt electrical system? Well, most cars have traditionally run on a 12-volt system, as the normal car battery is a DC 12-volt battery. Now, though, automakers are either switching over to 48-volt systems, using 48-volt lithium-ion batteries, or adding them on top of the existing 12-volt system.

So what’s the point of all of this, you might ask?

To learn more about BMW’s view and strategy on the 48V systems, we spend some time with BMW Board Member in charge of R&D, Klaus Fröhlich.

“We have different strategies than our competitors, Fröhlich said. “They started with the first generation of the 48V systems. First of all, these were quite expensive, around 2,000 euros. It was a 8-10kW alternator, sluggish so the fuel consumption benefit was very low. You couldn’t use the torque cause it wasn’t any relevant torque available. It also offered things like very air conditioning quality, very good Start/Stop systems, but is this a good value to the customer?”

The engineering chief at BMW says that the company built some first-generation 48V applications just to learn the systems, but the focus is really on the second-generation.

“Generation 2 means that I double the electric power. I’m going to 20kW and instead of going to the belt motor alternator, I will go into the transmission. So we are partnering with ZF and at the beginning of the next decade, we will have the latest generation transmissions. We will not only have double the power, but also an integrated 48-volt system and because it’s behind the engine, we can do some crawling and some other things without using the engine. And the other thing is, that it has boost!”

“It could be some hundreds Newton Meters, and not only some sluggish 80 to 90. Of course, I also had time to integrate into the architecture a bigger 48-volt battery. And the good thing is that even though it’s a much more performant system, it has a lower cost than the first generation so now it’s the right time to scale. It had made no sense to scale on the first generation. By 2025, I am confident that all generation combustion engines will have that system.”

There is no news on which BMW cars will first get the 48V systems, but we expect to see some models in 2020-2021.

Stay tuned for a full interview with Herr Fröhlich!