Globally, there are just over one billion vehicles on the roads, and they all share one common thing. Whether conventional, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or extended-range electric, they all have an internal combustion engine.
Of course, I left out battery electric vehicles, which make up less than 1% of all vehicles on the planet. Clearly, the internal combustion engine is important to modern society, not only in transportation, but also in power generation, agriculture, industry, and the list goes on. Burning fossil fuels in internal combustion engines, presents a huge greenhouse gas emissions problem.
In the United States alone, transportation is calculated to be responsible for about 30% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. Depending on how they are driven, plug-in hybrid and extended-range electric vehicles can significantly cut carbon dioxide emissions. They’re cheaper to run than their conventional counterparts, have significantly higher fuel economy, and are more convenient than pure battery electric vehicles.
BMW is pushing plug-in hybrid vehicle technology hard with its in-house EfficientDynamics engineering segment. A new concept car, based on the BMW 3-Series, was recently unveiled in France, taking the best of everything that BMW has learned from developing electric motor-generators and lithium-ion battery packs for the BMW i3 and BMW i8 extended-range electric vehicles, and efficient engine technology in BMW’s MINI brand. The new plug-in hybrid concept has about 22 miles electric range, after which an efficient four-cylinder engine kicks in for hybrid vehicle driving.
BMW Board Member Herbert Diess says this is just the beginning, that “all BMW Group models” will benefit from the combination of technologies. Future BMW plug-in hybrid models will feature up to 60 miles of electric range, for everyday driving, and efficient internal combustion engines, for longer trips.
Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to be all there is to the story. One analyst figures that BMW may even phase out the internal combustion engine completely in about ten years. It might be easy to point to developments in lithium-ion battery and hydrogen fuel cell technology as enabling such a transition, but is the world ready for zero-ICE vehicles?