BMW: How to make the future out of the past

Bmw: How To Make The Future Out Of The Past
BMW has shown off concept versions of both a sleek four-door saloon and a spacious SUV
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What do you think of when you think of BMW? You probably think of slick, sleek saloons and SUVs, cars which radiate a combination of performance and prestige in a manner which no other brand quite manages.

If you’re a bit of a car nut, you might think of the famed BMW M-cars — M2, M3, M4, M5 and so on — ultra-high performance cars, with the power and speed of a Ferrari or Porsche but wrapped up in sensible, useable saloon and coupe bodies.


You might even think of the glories of BMW’s motorsport heritage — screaming six-cylinder Touring Cars in the seventies, the most powerful Formula One engine, ever, in the eighties, and the Le Mans and sports car hybrids today.

So how do you take all of that — all of that heritage, all of that history, all of that expectation — and turn it to face the electric future of motoring? How can BMW, a company which once dubbed itself The Ultimate Driving Machine, remain so when the car as we know it is about to change, and change utterly?

BMW's Group Design Director Adrian van Hooydonk
BMW's Group Design Director Adrian van Hooydonk

Dr Rudolf Bencker probably knows. Dr Bencker is the head of new technologies at BMW, and he recently came to Dublin to give one of the keynote speeches at the Transport Research Arena (TRA) 2024 conference, held at the RDS.


TRA is a conference that brings together the best and brightest minds in global transport and safety, and asks them to consider the future of transportation — not just cars, but how we all get about and live our mobile lives. BMW was one of the few car-making companies to attend the conference, proudly smack dab in the middle of it, making the case for personal mobility in the future.

“The BMW Group’s ambition is to be a pioneer in premium mobility, as it has been for more than 100 years now,” Dr Bencker told us on the fringes of the conference.

“Innovation is a substantial driver in our strategy. Today, premium mobility is defined as being sustainable, not only focusing solely on electric vehicles, but also on highly efficient combustion vehicles - taking also a more circular value chain into account. So, from our point of view, a car and a mobility company do not exclude each other. The common link is the mobility of our customers.”

Dr Bencker says that BMW is putting sustainability at the centre of its strategic direction – from the duller subjects of administration and purchasing to the more product-focused development and production, all the way to sales and marketing.


He points out that the company has repeatedly said that it is committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and is following a course aimed at reducing CO2 and limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees. Indeed, according to BMW it’s actually outperforming its own targets on CO2, as can be seen here.

“We are the first German automotive manufacturer to join the ‘Business Ambition for 1.5° C’ campaign launched by the Science-Based Targets Initiative” said Dr Bencker. “This makes us part of the international Race to Zero initiative.

"We firmly believe that effective climate protection can be achieved through technological innovations. By 2030, we will reduce CO2 emissions per car per kilometre driven by half from 2019 levels. Throughout the lifecycle – from the supply chain, through production, to the end of the use phase – we will achieve a 40 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by the same year.”

BMW Vision Neue Klasse
BMW Vision Neue Klasse: A big part of that emissions reduction will come from the growth of electric cars

A big part of that emissions reduction will come from the growth of electric cars.

BMW is already one of the leading brands (arguably, the leading brand…) in Europe when it comes to electric models, having taken a lead over the rest of the pack a decade ago with the brilliant i3 electric hatchback, and it now has fully-electric i4, i5, and i7 saloons as well as battery-powered versions of its X2 and X3 SUVs.

In Ireland this year there are 12 fully electric models available to buy from both the BMW and Mini ranges.

That’s without even mentioning the plug-in hybrid models — a further 12 plug-in models are available, including the newly-updated BMW 3 Series saloon.


The new 3 Series might not look like an electric car, and still has a petrol engine, but the 330e model can now go for 100km on pure electric power with a full charge of its compact hybrid battery.

Next, BMW is about to take a big step into the future, and it’s going to do that by taking inspiration from its own past.

Back in 1962, BMW was on the financial rocks and needed a smash-hit new car to save the company.

That car was the 1500, then known as the ‘Neue Klasse’ or New Class model, which did exactly what it set out to do — it was a massive sales hit, and its crisp styling and sharp handling set a motoring template that BMW still uses today.

Now, that Neue Klasse name is being revived for a new family of entirely electric BMWs, the first of which will go on sale next year.

These cars — so far BMW has shown off concept versions of both a sleek four-door saloon and a spacious SUV — take clear inspiration from that 1962 original in their clean, razor-edged styling but underneath they’re looking solidly towards the future.

BMW neue Klasse
BMW neue Klasse

They’re based on a brand-new electric car platform, which uses more efficient batteries which will give them much longer ranges on one charge than current BMWs — as much as 600-700km depending on the model.

They’re also the first cars which will use ultra-high-tech new computer controls, drastically reducing the number of individual electronic control units, and condensing all of the necessary computing power into two cores; one for driving, and one for assisting the driver. This new twin-core system is known as ‘The Heart Of Joy’ — it’s the ultimate driving machine for the AI age.

As Dr Bencker points out, though, creating cars that are compatible with a zero-carbon future is about more than just batteries. It’s also about how you build the cars in the first place, and to do that BMW has plans to essentially build new cars out of old cars. “The future of our planet demands a circular economy” said Dr Bencker.

“Every year, humans consume more than 100 billion tonnes of raw materials. We have to counter this, for environmental, economic and social reasons. This means modifying the design process, using resources more efficiently and closing material loops.

"This is another area where we set ourselves goals. For instance, we aim to increase the percentage of secondary material in our vehicles to up to 50 per cent going forward. This will require a significant increase in market availability of such materials. One of the ways we will achieve this is by working with partners across all sectors.”

BMW has been a pioneer in motoring technology before. It was one of the first to introduce turbocharging to road cars, as well as paddle-shift gearboxes, variable valve timing, weight-saving carbon-fibre construction and so much more.

BMW Neue Klasse
BMW Neue Klasse

Now, BMW’s biggest innovation will be the circular car, a car made to last longer (instead of replacing the whole car after three years, you will bring it back to be refreshed and renewed) and then entirely recycled at the end of its life into a brand-new machine.

Indeed, the company is currently working on technology which will, live and in real time, monitor the health and condition of your current car and ping you a message when it reaches the point where your car is worth more as recycling than it is as a trade-in.

“So, BMW Group assumes responsibility throughout the vehicle lifecycle” said Dr Bencker. “This enhances our success as a manufacturer of premium vehicles – because premium and sustainability will be inseparable in the future.”

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