Efficiency and Sustainability seemingly unlimited
In the Western World we take for granted having a bath or taking a shower. We hardly think of efficiency or sustainability while doing so. Not so the Car Industry. Thus we hear from Volkswagen that 32 bath tubs per car produced are too many. Efficiency, sustainability, ecology are three big words of which the car manufacturers have become acutely aware, not least because of ever more stringent regulations from Brussels. The Volkswagen Group and VW pride themselves in “thinking blue”. The company claims that sustainability has become firmly entrenched in its statutes. By 2018 the Volkswagen Group aims to replace Toyota as the World’s number one car manufacturer, at least this is what CEO Martin Winterkorn proclaims. The programme is called “Mach 18 Factory”, “Mach 18″ being the overall watchword – meaning something like “make it to being Number 1 worldwide by 2018!”
On the way from Number One in Europe to becoming Number One in the world, Volkswagen assesses its Think Blue Factory as one in which the “bath tubs per car” have to be significantly reduced, using as little water as possible, and as one in which remnants from the pressing plant are used for other components. Volkswagen considers environmental topics as paramount in the production process and announces a further reduction in the waste of resources of 25 per cent by 2018.
Truly a Survival of the Fittest?
Regarding the type of engine, combustion has been, still is and will remain to be the most successful solution for cars. However, the European Comission in Brussels keeps installing new regulations, especially as regards levels of CO2 emissions. So, national governments in Europe pump money into other systems keeping them artificially alive, just to meet the unrealistic environmental targets. Accordingly, the German government and Chancellor Angela Merkel have just announced further substantial unreasonable subventions for e-mobility. Can one not stop flogging a partially dead horse and rather invest in cars powered by the ever-improving combustion engine?
Whereas according to Darwinian survival of the fittest, the combustion engine would easily survive for many decades to come and further improve its CO2 emissions, it might well become an endangered species on account of Brussels’ and Germany’s interventionism. The e-hype of these past years is quite unbelievable. While new technologies need the passion and support of all engineers and financiers involved, there is a limit when it comes to probabilities and cost-benefit analyses. It has been shown that neither the well to wheel analysis nor return on investment calculations for purely electric cars makes any sense. And why not invest this money in hydrogen cars that emit nothing but water, can cover the same distances as combustion engines and take as little time to refill? One cannot help thinking of haphazard decisions taken at random. As a matter of fact, these decisions are the result of guesswork. Firstly, General Elections in Germany are looming, generating varied lobbying and irrational promises. Secondly, the German car industry with its focus on premium cars needs to sell enough e-cars to meet the severe CO2 limits that by 2020 allow no more than an average emission per new car of 95 gram of CO2 per kilometer. This is achieved by means of super credits. To quote the European Commission: “Each low-emitting car will be counted as 3.5 vehicles in 2012 and 2013, 2.5 in 2014, 1.5 vehicles in 2015 and then 1 vehicle from 2016 onwards. This approach will help manufacturers further reduce the average emissions of their new car fleet.”
So far electric cars are merely a gimmick; some will be bought for illogical reasons. They are far more expensive, the batteries will not last as long as the car’s lifecycle and take hours to reload, added to which the distance one can cover remains a fraction of that covered with a petrol or diesel engine. Instead, one must ask whether it would not be better for the German government to stand up for reasonable regulations. VDA President Matthias Wissmann
at any rate has dampened the great expectations for e-mobility in Germany. “If we reach the goal of one million electric vehicles on German streets one or two years later, that is not a problem. What is really important is that the German car industry remains in the lead regarding technological innovations and market share.” The President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry wrote a letter to the German Chancellor a few weeks ago asking her to vehemently oppose CO2 regulations that would be nails in the German car industry’s coffin.
Outrageously Different: The “BMWi Way” set to hit the road
BMW claims to have found a Columbus’ egg. With the motto “Born electric” the Bavarian premium brand is set to revolutionise the future of mobility once again. Its Columbus’ egg being an innovative lightweight and drive train concept. The BMWi range of cars is to consist both of fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. The Bavarian optimism as regards the electrification of the powertrain is not shared by the majority of the OEMs. And yet the BMWi representatives are convinced that their concept which they started as “Project i” back in 2007 and have since pursued in secrecy will prove a sustainable success.
The brains behind BMWi claim to have re-invented the car again, having reshaped it from scratch. The decisive factor for their electric models is the use of Carbon Fibre Composite materials with the use of which BMW endeavours to achieve a reduction of weight by 50 per cent compared to steel, plus a superior stiffness and good crash behaviour. The BMW i3 as fully electric car in the small segment will hit the road before the end of the year. The sportscar i8 will soon follow as a plug-in hybrid. “We have made no compromises with these purpose-built cars that support our emission free range of models. They represent two extreme poles in our otherwise classical offer of cars”, explains Hildegard Wortmann from Product Management and Aftersales. BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer adds: “It is an even bigger step than that from the carriage to the car.” In other words, BMW is breaking the rules of conventional car production. BMW wants a revolution, and somewhat confusingly calls it “i”, because it has nothing to do with i phone or i pad. Except that it might appeal exactly to that generation, which could be called generation “i”, as in “i” for innovation. Or …
“i” for Iconic Change under the name of sustainability?
“You say you want a revolution – Well, you know – We all want to change the world. You tell me that it’s evolution – Well, you know – We all want to change the world. You say you got a real solution – Well, you know – We’d all love to see the plan. You ask me for a contribution – Well, you know – We’re doing what we can.” With “Born electric” BMW might turn out to be as revolutionary as the Beatles in the 1960ies, with their new hairstyles and quite revolutionary songs and ideas. As in the Beatles song “Revolution” the car manufacturer has a “real solution” with which it wants to change the world.
The Bavarians are not only building entirely new cars, where an aluminium chassis sits on a carbon body and introduces new freedoms in design, but they deliver a 360 degree carefree package with it, or at least intend to do so. They call it “the BMW i 360-degree package for customer-friendly, (easy and convenient), electric mobility.” As BMW explains: “Through the 360° Electric programme, BMW i will offer solutions for all aspects of electric mobility. Under this banner it has entered numerous partnerships which will support the overriding goal of ensuring that, by the launch date, the charging options for the BMW i3 and BMW i8 will include customer-friendly, sustainable and convenient solutions for home garage charging.” Needless to say, all these partnerships are centred on the concept of sustainability.
This manufacturer of sporty premium cars is convinced of its opportunity to change public perception, to lead the premium segment and to develop a sustainable business. Quite a sizable commitment! But of course BMW is relying on governmental support as regards further tax reductions for the e-cars and a speedy installation of the necessary infrastructure. And who is the clientèle for the BMW i cars? No doubt, they will attract the so-called Lohas, i.e. that section of society that follows a lifestyle of health and sustainability. Most importantly for BMW though, the Lohas must be sufficiently wealthy.
PS: As you may have noticed the issue is highly controversial. Huffington Post displays an opposing view from Bill Destler who strongly believes in e-mobility. He takes the view that “electric cars are our future”:
And for the state of affairs as regards the regulations by the European Commission, take a look at:
You may also like to follow up the discussion re the BMW i revolution on LinkedIn: Rise of the BMW i3 | LinkedIn