With its i3 electric car already on sale in parts of Europe and its i8 plug-in hybrid sports car due to launch in the next few months, BMW isn’t just launching itself into the electric car market — it’s leaping. In today’s increasingly crowded plug-in marketplace however, producing a plug-in car isn’t enough to ensure it will sell: having the best technology is.
So it’s no surprise that a collaborative partnership between BMW and Toyota — the undisputed king of hybrid drivetrain technology — has led to the development of battery technology which BMW says is more powerful and more efficient than current technology.
The partnership, which BMW entered into with Toyota in March last year, focused on developing new alternative fuel technologies as well as the sharing of existing engine and drivetrain technologies between the two automakers. But while BMW and Toyota have focused on many areas of alternative fuel technology — including hydrogen fuel cell development — it is the collaborative battery development from the two firms which looks most promising.
Talking to Autocar) this week, Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of marketing, said that the battery partnership has proven extremely fruitful, and has already led to some major improvements in cell design.
“We’ve been genuinely impressed by the speed and quality of the learnings,” he said. “The teams are working very well together. We are making some big steps, especially in battery performance and efficiency.”
For BMW, whose very brand identity hinges on driving pleasure, power, and refinement, a battery pack which gives it more power for less weight could give it a massive performance edge in the marketplace. BMW’s i3, for example, is built using Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics (CFRP) to help offset the heavy weight of its battery pack. Developing a more powerful, lighter battery pack could yield even more performance gains in the future for BMW, something which would only increase sales.
For Toyota, whose only electric vehicle — the RAV4EV, which uses a Tesla-built drivetrain and battery pack — is sold in limited numbers in parts of U.S. as a ‘compliance car,’ the new battery technology could give it a quick and easy way to enter the electric vehicle marketplace without relying on Tesla’s engineering expertise.
Given Toyota’s current insistence that hydrogen fuel cells, not electric cars, are the future however, we’re not sure if Toyota will make use of the technology as much as BMW.
That said, according to Robertson, while BMW and Toyota have worked hard on hydrogen fuel cell projects and made progress, the technology is still some way off because of a lack of hydrogen infrastructure.
The battery advances meanwhile, hinted Robertson, have the capability to dramatically change consumers’ attitudes towards EVs.
“We are now looking at how we can use the learnings together, because there’s no question they will make electric cars far more attractive,” he said.
Now it’s just a matter of waiting to see just how easily this technology can be scaled into future BMW and Toyota cars, but will it give either company an edge over the current market leaders: Renault-Nissan, Tesla, and Chevrolet? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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