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09 August 2017

BMW Consolidating Assembly Lines To Build Electrified and ICE Variants

BMW is ready to cover all the bases by making its factories capable of producing all-electric, plug-in hybrid, and traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, all off the same assembly lines.

The company has grand plans to electrify its vehicle offerings over the next decade, but its chief executive acknowledges there’s no way to accurately predict which technology will win out. So, it’s better to be prepared on all fronts.

“Nobody knows how many electric vehicles you’ll sell in 2020, 2021 and 2025,” CEO Harald Krueger said. “You don’t know how many plug-in hybrids you will sell, and you don’t know how many combustion engines you will sell. The only answer is flexibility [to] deliver all three.”

The automaker hopes to avoid the historic dilemma of its industry — having factories sit idle as sales dwindle while its other factories can’t keep up with demand.

The answer will be making its vehicle platforms “future proof,” adaptable to handle electric powertrains and ICEs.

The BMW i3 electric and i8 plug-in hybrid were built on a dedicated production system specific to these vehicles at the company’s Leipzig, Germany, assembly plant.

That management practice will come to an end.

“It was a plant inside a plant, so to say,” said Oliver Zipse, BMW AG board member in charge of production. “Completely separated. That is not our strategy for the future.”

The new strategy is to integrate all the drivetrains, where workers might see an all-electric drive on the assembly line followed by a diesel engine, and then a plug-in hybrid.

“That’s the only way we think to respond to the necessary flexibility because we don’t know the demand,” Zipse said.

The new manufacturing system will start with the X3 crossover and 3-series coming to market with all three powertrain options, the company said.

An all-electric X3 will come out in 2020, and an all-electric 3 series is expected to show up in 2019 or 2020. Both will be on the new BMW Cluster Architecture (CLAR), which is designed to be a flexible platform capable on integrating any of the planned powertrains.

The assembly plants will need additional investment to adapt to large battery packs that weigh around 900 to 2,000 pounds. Body shop workers will have to be trained in preparing battery packs for installation in BMW electric vehicles within the main framing station.

SEE ALSO: BMW Reportedly Increasing i3 Battery Range Again

The BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C., will be part of the transition. That plant has made about 25,000 plug-in hybrid X5s since that alternative powertrain started in 2015.

Spartanburg will be configured soon to handle all-electric versions of the X3 and X6 crossover utility vehicles; that factory will see the large crossover X7 starting in late 2018. The plant will eventually be adapted to handle all three powertrains in coming models.

Krueger wants to make sure that building pure electric vehicles doesn’t require a separate assembly line. That could be quite costly, he said.

“What might happen is, you can destroy the brand,” Krueger said. “You have your old-fashioned business and a modern business, and in between, you’ve killed the brand.”

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