Techlifts (Not Facelifts) in BMWs New Klasse Future combustion isnt dead, but electrics are the future and BMWs R&D chief Frank Weber is balancing the two propulsion systems while charging full-speed ahead with technologies embodied in the Neue Klasse concept.
Greg Kable | Dec 12, 2023
Frank Webers career spans more than three decades as an engineer at Adam Opel, General Motors and, since 2011, at BMW where he now serves as head of global R&D and is a member of the BMW management board. WardsAuto spoke with Weber about the Neue Klasse and its implications for BMWs future.
Wards: The Neue Klasse introduces a new modular electric platform that is planned to form the basis of up to six new electric-powered BMW models before 2030. What are the key elements of the new structure?
Weber: We are in a phase where flexibility is required. We have to detach ourselves from how we have perceived platforms up to now. There is an increasing realization that the art of mastering diversity in your portfolio lies in how you use and network major components engines, motors, battery cells, on-board computers, control units, app functions and software upgrades. It is not so much the platform structure itself, but the individual components and how you use them. That is the Neue Klasse.
Wards: Is it important to replace every BMW or remain in all current segments together with electric variants?
Weber: We are firmly convinced that our strength in conventional internal-combustion-engine models together with the developments that we have in store for our next generation of electric models will lead to further growth for BMW.
Wards: So rumors about BMW abandoning the ICE completely are not true?
Weber: Its complete nonsense. Firstly, its not true. And secondly, suggesting that theres nothing more to be done in this field is not true, either.
Wards: BMW has an illustrious history of high-revving ICE development and production. How do you convince customers that an electric motor is the better choice?
Weber: Its very precise. Much smoother than a combustion engine, which still can feel a bit clumsy due to turbocharging. An electric motor regulates incredibly finely. Weve managed to harness this in combination with the chassis systems to take the driving experience of electric cars to the next level.
Wards: BMW claims new models based on the Neue Klasse platform will have 30% more range, offer 30% faster charging and be 25% more efficient than its existing electric models. How, specifically?
Weber: It is not only the electric motor that contributes to efficiency. It is the entire system all components and what we call secondary effects like weight, aerodynamics and rolling resistance. Just an example: A current BMW with a real-world range of around 400 km (249 miles) will achieve a range of 500 km (311 miles) or more with an identical battery size. Weve always said the answer cant be to make ever larger batteries.
Wards: The Neue Klasse concept showcases a new central computer/controller that BMW calls the Heart of Joy. Whats so special about it and what does its inception mean for future models?
Weber: It is nothing less than BMWs DNA, encompassing everything related to driving dynamics and powertrain, providing the basis for how the drivetrain and the chassis interact and perform. It operates way faster than todays systems. When we started development, we quickly realized the concept is great. What we werent really banking on was the potential. It is a game changer.
Wards: BMW is renowned for instilling its production models with an intrinsically sporting driving character. Will this be evident in upcoming electric models?
Weber: There was a long discussion exactly around this particular character with the Neue Klasse. We concluded our customers dont want just a computer on wheels. They want a digitally competent product, but they dont want a computer on wheels. A car is a highly emotional relationship you enter into.
Wards: The Neue Klasse concept previews a radical shift in interior design with a focus on minimalism. What is the thinking here?
Weber: We dont see it as minimalism. We see it as a refinement of operations. People laughed at us when we introduced the iDrive controller more than two decades ago. But we said, Thats how it should be. We made it an industry benchmark. What were doing in the future with the Neue Klasse is starting with something weve already developed to a very high standard and making it better. The crucial thing is the access to each individual function.
Wards: ICE models from BMW have traditionally progressed along seven-year cycles with a midcycle facelift at the halfway point. Do you perceive this continuing in the future?
Weber: The facelift is no more. Weve moved on. Its actually a techlift. Digital connectivity and electric mobility open up a whole new realm in how we progress models in the future. Over-the-air updates will come regularly. So much is happening here. One of the challenges is managing how they are rolled out.