Posted by Dale Buss on September 20, 2012 05:02 PM
BMW held an event for auto reporters in Europe this week at a decommissioned military airport outside Munich, which the company has converted into a new driver-training center. Plenty of room there for auto scribes to cavort and pretend they're driving in 24 Hours of Le Mans instead of jotting down the spelling of Fürstenfeldbruck, the name of the former airfield.
A member of BMW's management board, Herbert Diess, was asked about the i-Series electric car that BMW has promised to launch by the end of next year, a full few years after the first completely electrified model hit American roads, at least, in the form of the Nissan Leaf. "It will be a lot of fun to drive, I can promise you that," Diess said, according to the New York Times. But he added, "The internal combustion engine will be with us for a long time."
Consider Diess's comments just the latest instance of the tail attempting to wag the dog in the auto industry's global drive for increased fuel efficiency in order to meet both stiffer mileage and emission goals being imposed by governments and to meet less definable environmental ideals. Instead of rushing an all-electric car to market while its executives talk about it, BMW is focusing on making its internal-combusion powertrains as fuel-efficient as possible.
And, joined by many other automakers, they are doing just that. Such has fuel efficiency improved in gasoline engines lately that the mileage differentials that can be delivered by hybrid vehicles are only a few miles per gallon in many instances. Diesel versions by the German makers and, soon, by GM and Chrysler as well, do even better versus hybrids. And the sticker prices of all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are daunting enough that most American consumers still consider them impractical and not worth the investment.
That's why BMW was happy to talk this week not just about the i-Series but also its new three-cylinder internal-combustion motor. It will first appear in a four-seat hybrid coupe in 2014, but BMW focused on demonstrating not its fuel efficiency but its strong performance properties. Those are what BMW is known for and what its brand can't sacrifice at any cost.
Even at the cost of the $40,000 or so that the sticker for the first BMW i-Series, someday, is likely to command.