There is a lot of talk about electric mobility at BMW's annual press conference this Wednesday. With 215,000 fully electric vehicles, the Munich-based carmaker sold twice as much last year as in the previous year and wants to "continue to pick up the pace," as CEO Oliver Zipse announces. Next to him on the darkened stage are the massive BMW i7 and the angular BMW iX1 – two new models in the ever-growing electric fleet. So everything will only be plugged in the future?

Henning Peitsmeier

Business correspondent in Munich.

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Certainly not. Because on the question of whether climate-neutral synthetic fuels should also be used in combustion engines in Europe after 2035, the BMW boss is also recognizable as the guardian of the status quo. Today, customers have the choice of five drive types, says Zipse, and includes hydrogen drive in addition to the fully and partially electric variants as well as diesel and gasoline engines.

It does not make sense to simply switch off four out of five drive types in 2035, because this would put the industry in a new, dangerous dependency on the raw materials for battery cars. "Diversity means resilience," is Zipse's slogan. And at the same time, he is fuelling doubts as to whether it will be possible to provide the complete charging infrastructure for electromobility by 2035. In fact, the range of socket cars is growing noticeably faster than that of the necessary charging stations.

No contradiction to electrification

For Zipse, the commitment to e-fuels is not a contradiction to electrification. And so, in the current discussion, the BMW boss jumps in with Volkswagen boss Oliver Blume, who is campaigning above all in his role as Porsche boss for exceptions to the actually already agreed ban on combustion engines in the EU from 2035: "There is no other region of the world that is planning a ban on this drive technology."

At BMW, the Board of Management expects sales growth this year, preferably in the upper vehicle segment, by a mid-double-digit percentage. Of course, drivers should also be new electric models. Their share of total sales is expected to increase from 9 percent to 15 percent, which necessitates growth in the upper double-digit percentage range.

From 2025 onwards, the so-called New Class will once again shift the focus of the drive system to e-mobility. The first all-electric sedans in the format of the BMW 3 Series will then roll off the assembly line at the new plant in Debrecen, Hungary. For this purpose, BMW relies on a modular system for which an 800-volt drive architecture is being developed for the first time and in which batteries with round cells are used.

1 billion euros for a factory for high-voltage batteries

CFO Nicolas Peter expects the new cells not only to significantly reduce loading times, but also to reduce costs by 50 percent. According to Peter, the sixth generation of the electric drive will bring the electric vehicles to the level of combustion engines in terms of costs and margins. In Debrecen, Hungary's second-largest city on the border with Romania, BMW is investing almost 1 billion euros in a factory for high-voltage batteries. At least six models of the new class are planned in the high-volume mid-size segment.

With its turn to electric drive, BMW is in the automotive mainstream. But even if well before the year 2030 more than half of all BMW sold will drive fully electric, the management in the "four-cylinder" called BMW headquarters does not write off the combustion engine. "We are firmly convinced of coexistence in the next ten years," says Frank Weber, Board Member for Development.

The new class should also be prepared for hydrogen propulsion. BMW has just launched a small series of the current X5 with fuel cell drive. "For us, hydrogen-electric vehicles complement e-mobility in a meaningful way, albeit with a time delay," says Zipse. And Weber mentions a corresponding network of filling stations as a prerequisite. So far, there are only around 100 hydrogen filling stations in Germany and they are geared towards heavy-duty traffic. In the second half of the decade, BMW wants to be ready for series production.