Electric is the future, at least if you believe luxury car maker BMW.
The German brand, known for its engineering excellence and some of the best engines ever created, is eyeing a future with batteries and electrons.
By 2025 BMW expects as many as a quarter of the cars it sells to be powered by electricity.
The latest arrival in BMW's quest to head the electric debate is the 530e. It looks like a regular BMW 5-Series but gets some blue tinges to highlight its 'green-ness'.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged four-cylinder.
Our government is so far behind the times in their view of climate change that they probably think that we are still getting around in horses and carts.Marc Werner
Power up at home
But it's the 83kW/250Nm electric motor sandwiched between the engine and the transmission that is expected to do most of the work.
That electric motor can take the car up 43km at up to 140km/h before relying on the petrol engine for more grunt and driving range.
Able to be recharged from a household powerpoint or a dedicated fast charging station, the 530e is claimed to account for the everyday driving needs of most Australian motorists while allowing for the same 500km-plus driving range of cars we've driven for decades.
Such plug-in hybrids – also available from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche and Mitsubishi – are seen as a best of both worlds approach.
Pound for pound
The drawcard with the 530e is its pricing. At $108,900 it is identically priced to the 530i with which it shares its equipment levels.
Despite the pricing parity, BMW Australia CEO Marc Werner acknowledges most well-heeled Australians will not immediately warm to it.
"Yes," was his immediate response when asked whether Australians would buy many more 530is over the 530e.
He admits most people spending six figures on BMW's iconic large sedan will go for the traditional petrol-powered route.
As well as customer perceptions that plug-in hybrids are expensive, he blames it on government inaction towards environmentally friendly vehicles; minimal charging infrastructure for electric cars, for example.
As such, Werner describes the 530e as a "test case".
"This is a gamechanger for the technology and one that we are proud to deliver … it is a major step forward."
'Heads in the sand'
Werner has long been a critic of local policies surrounding the automotive industry.
But in launching the 530e locally he's ramped up the attack, accusing the government of having its "collective heads in the sand" with a "crazy" approach to "shocking [vehicle] emissions levels".
"Our government is so far behind the times in their view of climate change that they probably think that we are still getting around in horses and carts.
"The government subscribes to a policy of avoidance, rhetoric and inaction – particularly inaction."
Taking a stand
Werner is by no means alone in calling for incentives for EVs, but he's been one of the most outspoken calling for a holistic approach to encourage the inevitable shift to electric propulsion.
Part of the reason for government inaction has been the local manufacturing industry, which shuts down for good on October 20.
The remaining two manufacturers – Holden and Toyota – are heavily invested in large cars, mostly with large engines. By encouraging more efficient vehicles the government risked stopping the still healthy demand for Australian-made cars.
Petrol out, electricity in … eventually
The man in charge of BMW's 'i' cars – which includes the i3 and i8 as well as the iPerformance models, the latter based on existing vehicles – says electric is the future for all brands, including BMW.
"The future is pure electric, I have no doubt – it's only a question of time," states Dr Alexander Kotouc.
"In the long run, the battery itself will become a commodity," says Kotouc. "The secret sauce, the trick, is how to really manage the energy flow in and out of the battery. This is where the major differentiation will be in the technology we're currently developing because we will be able to probably get more energy in and out of the battery safely than what others, as far as we know, are currently developing."
Part of the challenge is ensuring the longevity and condition of batteries.
Batteries don't like extreme heat and cold, for example, and forcing electricity in or out of them very quickly can reduce their lifespan.
The next EV level
BMW has two i ranges.
The iPerformance models use the body of an existing BMW model, including the 3- , 5- and 7-Series and the X5 SUV.
Those iPerformance models are all plug-in hybrids, which allow recharging and limited electric-only driving before a petrol engine takes over. Such PHEVs are designed for people driving mainly shorter distances but with an occasional need to travel further.
Then there are regular 'i' cars – currently i3 and i8 – were produced from the ground up using carbon fibre bodies and extensive electric drivetrains.
One small leap
BMW has reportedly delayed the expansion of the i-car family, although Kotouc denies that and says it will soon grow.
"We have the legal rights to build everything from i1 to i12 and it's up to your creativity and imagination now what we will probably build next," he says, later all but confirming an i-SUV is under development.
He says within a few years BMW will make huge steps in advancing EV tech.
"We will have a huge leap when it comes to battery range, a huge leap when it comes to autonomous driving technology. We said it makes much more sense to wait until this leap is really available for our customers then bring the next level of the BMW i car – it's a real next level."
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