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What role do hydrogen cars play? Questions to BMW's Chief Development Officer Frank Weber

What role do hydrogen cars play?  Questions to BMW's Chief Development Officer Frank Weber
Frank Weber is a member of the Board of Management of BMW AG. (Photo: BMW AG)
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BMW Development Board Member Frank Weber explains in an interview with t3n that hydrogen propulsion will remain a niche and that the group will focus on e-mobility in the long term. He does not yet give a specific schedule for the combustion engine to be switched off.

“There is no way around the electric car.” A clear message by Frank Weber. But also a statement that surprises. The Bavarian premium car maker will ultimately continue to develop combustion engines and, from the end of 2022, a small series of fuel cell vehicles. Vehicles powered by hydrogen are only a niche market and the days of combustion engines are numbered in the long term, partly because of external requirements. The main focus at BMW is on the development of battery-powered cars.

Table of contents

    “Electric cars don’t come suddenly”
  • What role does hydrogen play at BMW?
  • BMW’s “New Class” should become more digital
  • What about the lifespan of fully digitized cars?
  • Autonomous driving: “We’re working our way up”
  • “Electric cars don’t come suddenly”

    Weber is convinced that electric cars are the future. However, the switch from combustion to electric vehicles will not take place overnight, but will go hand in hand with a structural change. Weber is certain that e-cars would not be able to establish themselves without the establishment of a comprehensive infrastructure. Even combustion fans would switch – they would only have to sit behind the wheel of an electric vehicle once. The driving experience will change your mind.

    Despite the conviction that the future lies in e-mobility, he could not name a specific end date for combustion engines. “As early as 2023, we will have at least one fully electric model on the road in around 90 percent of our current market segments,” said Weber.

    If you look at the carmaker’s ambitions in the direction of electromobility, the numbers don’t sound that unrealistic. After all, BMW plans to have ten million purely electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

    What role does hydrogen play at BMW?

    Even then, BMW does not want to focus entirely on purely battery-powered cars. At least hydrogen is still in the running as an alternative. Hydrogen vehicles can have advantages regionally, such as in Japan, where the electric charging infrastructure is not sufficiently developed. For BMW, a mixture of battery and fuel cell electric drives is conceivable in the long term if the framework conditions permit.

    However, Weber restricted that the majority of cars would be purely battery-electric. For larger vehicles, the head of development envisages a hydrogen drive. “Hydrogen will not be a solution for the masses,” explains Weber.

    The fuel cell technology in the BMW iX5 Hydrogen . (Photo: BMW)

    In the long term, all vehicle classes, from the 1 Series to the 7 Series, are to be based on the “New Class” that BMW intends to bring onto the market from 2025. With the upcoming architecture one can better scale the production. Models with fuel cells are also to be manufactured on the basis of the new architecture.

    The “New Class” is important for BMW not only to put a stronger focus on electromobility, but also to design more sustainable development and production. The carmaker is working on reducing nickel, cobalt and lithium as much as possible. In addition, BMW will use up to 50 percent on recycled secondary material in the future.

    At the IAA Mobility 2021 in Munich, the manufacturer also showed where BMW is headed: In the long term, BMW plans to focus fully on circular economy and recycling

    Other German manufacturers such as VW, Audi and Daimler are fully committed to electromobility. They have no plans for hydrogen vehicles in the passenger car segment. Meanwhile, VW and Daimler are working on truck models with fuel cells.

    BMW’s “New Class” should become more digital

    According to Weber, BMW wants the “New Class” fully network their vehicles. In addition, the number of control units should be further reduced and the intelligence of simple components should be used in central control elements.

    On the software side, the car manufacturer is also aiming to continuously expand its operating system, because with the current version, BMW OS 8, which was initially in the iX is used, primarily the user interface and operation, the design and the driver assistance systems would be developed in-house. From 2021 to 2025, further software modules for the “New Class” are to be gradually developed in-house.

    What about the lifespan of fully digitized cars?

    While with classic, or “stupid” Cars only have to replace defective components so that they can drive again without any problems, says volld digitized cars look a little different. With their chips, control units and lots of software, they will become smartphones on wheels. The first generation of these vehicles will lose their connectivity with the so-called 3G sunset, i.e. when the 3G radio standard is switched off. However, car manufacturers cannot do anything about that; instead, it is a decision of the network operator. In some markets, BMW offers upgrade options to 4G modems for some models. In Germany, the mobile connection will be at bet Opened vehicles are reset to 2G so that the connectivity of the vehicle is still available. According to Weber, the question of the service life of a networked vehicle has not yet been finally answered.

    With the introduction of a new vehicle architecture, BMW is also thinking about a modular structure of the components in order to be able to replace control units that are no longer up-to-date or that are no longer supported with more up-to-date ones. Weber added that car manufacturers would have to keep vehicle spare parts available for a period of 15 years after the end of production. Since cars are usually produced for about seven years, there is a support period of 22 years.

    Autonomous driving: “We are working our way up”

    Originally, BMW wanted to bring its iX onto the market with level 3 autonomy. It is now clear that the all-electric technology carrier will be on the road with Level 2 support at the end of the year. “We still need time after the introduction of the car for the technically necessary safeguarding of the technology kit. If we see real added value for our customers in the combination of security, function and assumption of responsibility through the system, we will offer the option, ”explains Weber. The road to autonomous driving is extremely complex, continues the BMW manager. “This also applies to legislation and the clarification of ethical questions.”

    Autonomous driving at BMW according to level 3 is still ongoing. (Image: t3n)

    At level 3, responsibility is transferred to the vehicle, which is why the system must be fully developed. “With highly automated driving, we have to prove that computers drive safer than humans. Today people drive 700 million kilometers in one go without accidents. For us, this is the benchmark. The safety of our customers is always our top priority. “

    Now you gradually approach level 3, while assisted driving level 2 is gradually expanded to “level 2 plus and 2 plus plus”. With automated driving according to level 2, the driver remains responsible and must always pay attention to the traffic and be able to intervene in an emergency. The plan is to start with it by 2023 and to let the function run at the legally permissible speed.

    BMW is not the only manufacturer that has overestimated the complexity of developing autonomous vehicles. Both Volkswagen and Daimler are not there yet. The Wolfsburg-based carmaker has decided to start an autonomous driving service according to Level 4 in Hamburg and Munich in 2025. Daimler wants to equip its luxury electric vehicle with level 3 autonomy from 2022.

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