The London REE Report: BMW's EV Approach. China Blinks?

The electrification of a vehicle requires new concepts in vehicle architecture and body construction in order to exploit the potential of the new emission-free drive system to optimum effect.


With the revolutionary LifeDrive concept, the BMW Group engineers are developing the car's architecture from scratch and adapting it to the demands and conditions of future mobility. The goal: to offset the additional weight of an electric vehicle – typically 250 to 350 kilograms. To this end, the BMW Group is focusing on the innovative high-tech material carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP).

BMW apparently gets it when it comes to developing EVs. There's really no reason to design them to look like the internal combustion engine alternatives, nor to design them with the same old concepts of chassis and bodywork. Nor probably will they need the same types of tyre, although that will depend the tyre manufacturers and the handling characteristics of the next generation of EV cars.  Below, BMW's different approach to our arriving EV age.

BMW's Megacity Vehicle to become the world's first volume-produced car with a passenger cell made from carbon
November 22, 2010

The BMW Group is once again breaking new ground with the Megacity Vehicle (MCV), due to come onto the market in 2013.

"The Megacity Vehicle is a revolutionary automobile. It will be the world's first volume-produced vehicle with a passenger cell made from carbon. Our LifeDrive architecture is helping us to open a new chapter in automotive lightweight design. Indeed, this concept allows us to practically offset the extra 250 to 350 kilograms of weight typically found in electrically powered vehicles." says Klaus Draeger, Member of the Board of Management for Development.

"The drive system remains the heartbeat of a car, and that also applies to electric vehicles," said Draeger. "Powertrains also remain a core area of expertise of Bayerische Motoren Werke. Electromobility and the hallmark BMW driving pleasure make an excellent match, if you go about things the right way. For this reason we are developing the powertrain for the Megacity Vehicle in-house – that includes the electric motor, the power electronics and the battery system."

—–The LifeDrive concept consists of two horizontally separated, independent modules. The Drive module integrates the battery, drive system and structural and crash functions into a single construction within the chassis. Its partner, the Life module, consists primarily of a high-strength and extremely lightweight passenger cell made from CFRP. Furthermore, the new vehicle architecture opens the door to totally new production processes which are both simpler and more flexible, and use less energy.

The BMW Group is also aiming to be the force behind the best drive systems over the years ahead – systems boasting outstanding efficiency, performance and smoothness, even if it is electricity rather than fossil fuels that are converted into propulsion.

All their efforts are focused on the implementation and typically BMW interpretation of the new generation of drive systems. Ultimately, electric vehicles not only provide a zero-local-emission and low-noise form of propulsion; their ability to deliver a totally new and extremely agile driving experience is also impressive.

The new architecture of the MCV also gives the vehicle designers additional freedom when it comes to creating a new aesthetic for sustainable urban mobility solutions.

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I think BMW's let's start over approach to electric vehicle design and manufacture,  will probably win out over let's make them look like ICE vehicles.  We've been here before with train carriages.  The first ones looked like a collection of stage coach carriages stuck together. The public quickly accepted new designs. My guess is that this will happen this decade too.  Perhaps the same concept will happen with trucks and vans.

Project-i, as the car is known internally, will continue BMW's rear-wheel drive tradition by featuring a rear-mounted 170bhp electric motor fed by a battery pack that sits under the passenger compartment. A range-extending version featuring a small petrol engine acting as a generator may also be made available.

BMW is hoping that a low centre of gravity and rear-wheel drive handling will ensure the emphasis remains on their famed driving enjoyment, while a top speed of 90mph and a maximum range of 124 miles should meet most commuter demands.

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BMW's Megacity, due in 2013, will be sold under a sub brand and meet the issue of sustainability head-on. BMW admits that it will have a much longer service life than a typical modern car. It is a radical design based on a corrosion-proof aluminium chassis and carbon passenger cell, as well as a robust electric motor and single-speed gearbox.

Only the Megacity's battery pack has a fixed life. It also benefits from half the number of parts of a conventional car, making it easier and quicker to build. A typical Megacity could stay in service for decades with relatively little expense.

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I'll end for the week with a comment on the Lynas – Sojitz deal, whereby in return for raising Lynas $250 million, Japan's Sojitz Corp gets exclusive rights to 70% of Lynas production for 10 years. I think it a very positive move for all in the rare metals sector. First because it shows that despite our western recession and austerity measures, there is still significant money around for the right deals. Second, someone at Sojitz is making an informed decision that things will get better ahead, and that current REE prices are unlikely to be an aberration.  They would rather lock in future supply than hold dollars. Sojitz has access to some of the best financial and metallurgical minds around. Who am I to disagree with Sojitz informed guess.  Below, did China just blink?

China ready for dialogue on rare earths: diplomats
BRUSSELS | Thu Nov 25, 2010 12:33pm EST

(Reuters) – China may be willing to soften the impact of its cuts in exports of rare earth elements on firms around the world that depend on them to make high-tech and defense products, EU-based diplomats said on Thursday.

China controls more than 95 percent of global rare earth supplies, giving it a stranglehold over a scarce resource used in a range of products from mobile phones to hybrid batteries.

It has decided to cut its exports on environmental grounds, alarming global industry and prompting discussions among G20 leaders about the potential impact, but a Chinese diplomat indicated China could be open to discussions on the issue.

"We are open to an amicable solution," the Brussels-based diplomat told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We are happy to continue a sustainable supply."

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Given the anonymous source and that it's in Brussels, I doubt that China blinked.

More on Sunday.

Graeme Irvine, London.