First BMW ‘new class’ will be a 3 Series
The first electric car of ‘die Neue Klasse’ (the ‘New Class’) is an all-electric version of the following 3 Series generation. This has been announced by the British motoring magazine Autocar.
The abbreviation ‘NK1’ is given as the internal working title. BMW announced ‘die Neue Klasse’ for the middle of the decade. The 3 Series is thus to be powered by BMW’s sixth-generation powertrain with new electric motors.
New Class sets new standards
800-volt battery technology enables charging power of 350 kW. As was the case with the just-introduced fifth generation, the sixth-generation e-drives will also be current-excited synchronous motors.
The Autocar report is based on a conversation with Frank Weber, BMW board member for development. In principle, the ‘Neue Klasse’ is intended to enable front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive EV models, accommodating modular battery packs of varying capacity.
“The Neue Klasse represents the beginning of a new phase of operations for BMW. It’s scaled to allow us to build electric cars from a 2 Series-sized saloon up to an X7-sized SUV,” Weber explained.
According to BMW, the Neue Klasse will be characterized by three key aspects: a completely redefined IT and software architecture, a new generation of high-performance electric drive trains and batteries, and a radically new level of sustainability across the entire vehicle lifecycle.
Closed-loop material cycle
From 2025 on, the company plans to source steel produced with up to 95% less CO2 emissions and without requiring fossil resources such as coal. The BMW Group has now reached an agreement to this effect with the Swedish start-up H2 Green Steel, which uses hydrogen and only green power from renewable energies for steel production.
The BMW Group and H2 Green Steel have also agreed to create a closed-loop material cycle. H2 Green Steel will take back sheet metal remnants, such as those produced at press plants when doors are punched out, and process them so that they can be shipped back to the plants as new steel rolls, also known as steel coils.
In this way, raw materials can be used multiple times in a circular economy and natural resources protected. In addition, since it requires less energy to produce, secondary steel lowers CO2 emissions by an average of 50-80%, compared to the primary material.
What about the batteries?
Weber did not give any details on the batteries but made it clear that the ‘NK1’ would still get batteries with liquid electrolyte – Weber does not see solid-state batteries in series production before the end of the decade.
But BMW is one of the new investors in the US battery start-up Our Next Energy (ONE). ONE is currently working on a so-called dual battery. The first is called Aries and uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistry in a cell-to-pack architecture to achieve high system-level energy density.
In ‘cell-to-pack’, the cells are integrated directly into the battery pack without the intermediate step of modules; the Chinese battery giant CATL, among others, is also pursuing this approach.
ONE’s second technology, Gemini, embodies a ‘high-energy battery pack’ coupled to the first battery and charges it, thus extending the range. According to the developer, this will enable electric cars to travel up to 1 200 kilometers in the future.
The decisive factor is a high energy density. According to ONE, the Aries battery will go into production at the end of 2022 with an energy density of 287 Wh/l at the system level. The range extender function of the coupled Gemini technology improves the energy density at the system level to 450 Wh/l, claims the new start-up.
One common architecture
The aluminum and steel structure (with some carbon touches) is designed to accommodate the aforementioned e-drive combinations and a PHEV powertrain with a combustion engine at the front and an e-motor at the rear.
Weber expects this ‘cluster architecture’ to result in high manufacturing efficiency and maximize synergies across the entire product portfolio. The ‘New Class’ will replace the current platforms FAAR (front-wheel-drive) and CLAR (rear-wheel-drive).
“We won’t be building separate structures anymore,” Weber adds. “The Neue Klasse will see a big ramp-up in volume potential. We’ve learned a lot in scaling over the past two generations of platform development.” Weber is referring to the i3 and i4/iX EVs.
Still based on the CLAR platform, BMW will first bring the recently announced electric versions of the 5 and 7 Series as the i5 and i7, in addition to the newly introduced i4. These models will then still have some combustion engine features such as the long front hood and center tunnel.
The electric 3 Series based on the ‘New Class’ will have different proportions inside and is expected to get a flat floor interior and a longer wheelbase. “People are expecting different aesthetics. That’s why we’ve also developed a new styling direction for our electric models,” Weber concludes.
In the interview, Weber indicated that the ‘New Class’ could also support a fuel cell powertrain if regulatory measures in various markets require it.
However, Weber did not announce any concrete projects with hydrogen. At the IAA Mobility in September, BMW had shown the iX5 Hydrogen. The H2 SUV based on the current X5 uses fuel cells from Toyota and is to be produced in small series.