German manufacturer BMW says there is no doubt the electrification of the car is now an irreversible path, despite admitting that the timeline for the death of the internal combustion engine remains unclear.
Speaking to the Australian media at the Frankfurt motor show today, BMW’s boss of electric mobility, Dirk Arnold, said that every market around the world is different - however the end result will always be in favour of electrified vehicles.
“I don’t think it's black and white. As far as we can see that across the world, you have the movement of electrification in different levels and different speeds. We have some countries like Norway, then you have countries like Belgium, Austria, where there is investments and infrastructures… in those countries and California, electrification is really on the rise,” Arnold said
“We see other markets where it is so-so. [But] that’s why we believe it's irreversible – electrification of the car, there is no doubt. Will it be tomorrow or in a week or ten years, it's hard to say, [but] we expect for the BMW group that roughly by 2025, 20 per cent of new car sales will be electric cars.”
Arnold admits that BMW continues to invest in traditional internal combustion engines (ICE), because despite the fast progress of the electric vehicle around the world, there is no real end date for ICE powered vehicles.
“I think no one really knows the death of ICE timing, there is no way back, it will come, but to say that it will happen in 20 or 30 years, come on, how can you know that? Maybe we will see what we have seen in China with strict regulations that you can’t enter the city with pure ICE - this will come in other cities you never know, but for a whole country or region, it’s really hard to predict.”
According to Arnold, the hurdles to electric cars still remain range anxiety and the re-education of mobility around pre-planning charging stops.
“We taught the customers that your personal mobility is endless, just short break [at fuel station] and you’re good to go. Now we are offering a different mobility, charging, you need to be planning ahead of time to manage all your travel needs. This is new, people think about it and there will be a group of customers that have different demands.
“What we clearly see now is a demand for higher ranges. There is still range anxiety there. We can tell the world again and again that your daily commute is 10 miles or whatever and easy to do with today’s i3, but it’s not a fact-based problem. It’s here [in the mind], we need to offer step-by-step higher ranges and then we will work our way down to decrease cost and weight.”
BMW is actively working on battery technology both from a cell perspective and chemical composition. The brand expects new and majory battery innovations every two years going forward.
“[By the] beginning of the 2020s, up to then we will see another two or three industrialisation cycles or updates on battery and cell technology, then we can offer ranges up to 6-700 km, I think that will be then sufficient for almost all needs across your personal mobility. Then it will start with getting the weight and prices down, which is happening now also.”
Despite the advancements of battery technology that brings the additional range, Arnold argues that charging infrastructure is absolutely fundamental to the uptake of electric vehicles.
“Charging is the deciding factor. It’s always - believe me, we have some rockstar markets like Norway and Malaysia - we can see in those special markets it’s always a combination of right product offer and infrastructure, because no one talks about gas stations because everyone knows they are across the country…. And you can go from gas station to gas station. Same holds true for charging stations.”
BMW says of the 170,000 electrified vehicles it has so far sold, its internal research shows that customers are willing to wait around 20 minutes for a recharge, but no more than that. This means a massive increase in charging station capabilities when larger battery vehicles debut in the years to come.
Locally, Australian charging infrastructure remains very much on the back foot, compared to places like Europe and parts of North America. It remains to be seen who will foot the bill for the infrastructure update that is required for electric vehicle mobility.