BMW Hybrids Arrive Late to Game, And Wrong One
BMW announced today that its first hybrid, the ActiveHybrid X6, will make its world premier at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, and will arrive in US showrooms in late 2009. BMW will also show the ActiveHybrid 7—which will reach the US in spring 2010—in Frankfurt.
We posted spy photos of the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 last month, when we received a report that the first production vehicles were rolling off the line at BMW’s Spartenburg, SC manufacturing facility. The latest announcement confirms BMW’s progress with its hybrids.
The ActiveHybrid X6 is a full hybrid vehicle that delivers a full dose of oomph—480 horsepower when you combine power from the twin-turbocharged V8 4.4-liter gas engine and two electric motors. Fuel efficiency is improved by about 20 percent when compared to a comparable conventional vehicle, pushing the Hybrid X6’s fuel economy just above the 20-mpg mark. Expect zero-to-60 performance around five-and-a-half seconds, and a price tag of approximately $70,000.
Better Never Than Late?
If BMW is expecting to create green buzz with its first hybrids, it may be disappointed. BMW’s announcement about its 20 mpg SUV hybrid and sedan is occurring just as green car fans are responding to news about mainstream plug-in cars that could achieve the equivalent of 100 mpg or more. The X6 hybrid is expected to run exclusively on electric power up to 37 miles per hour for as much as 1.5 miles—but a new generation of plug-in hybrids will run in all-electric mode for days.
Of course, this is comparing apples to oranges, but similar vehicles using so-called “two-mode” hybrid systems developed in cooperation with General Motors and then DaimlerChrysler, have received a lukewarm response. The GM two-modes are among the lowest sellers in the hybrid market, and Chrysler discontinued its two-mode models soon after introduction. The core idea of a two-mode hybrid is to utilize electric power not only at low speeds, but also for high-speed driving or towing.
Besides, the new BMW hybrids are priced in Fisker Karma territory.
The likely lack of buzz doesn’t erase the technical achievement of BMW engineers, who have reduced the X6 hybrid’s emissions and maximized its efficiency by using turbo charging and high-precision direct injection, electronic power steering, enhanced regenerative braking and stop/start functionality, and careful packaging and use of the hybrid nickel metal hydride battery pack which feeds electric power to the vehicle’s on board network.
The mild BMW ActiveHybrid 7 sedan may impress even less than the BMW hybrid SUV. It will employ an expensive but ultimately counter-intuitive combination of lithium ion batteries, turbocharging, direct injection and a 4.4-liter V8 engine. Combined output will be 455 horsepower. BMW makes the oxymoronic claim that it will be “the fastest-accelerating hybrid sedan in the world.” Acceleration to 60 mph in less than five seconds, and a top speed of 150 mph, will rank it among the fastest sports cars in the world. Very cool, but the hybrid system may still not be enough to raise the BMW ActiveHybrid7 beyond 20 mpg in the city. Exact fuel economy numbers are not yet available.
The two BMW vehicles once again beg the question: Isn’t using less petroleum supposed to be the point of a hybrid? Perhaps it’s a moot point. Both of the BMW hybrids are expected to sell in very low quantities.