By on November 22, 2017

BMW 4 Series

There’s a reason BMW’s M sub-brand is the performance division all other automakers strive to copy. Few letters hold as much clout as “M.” That one little addition to a BMW’s model name promises an overly generous heaping of horsepower, handling, and general sporting prowess.

Continuing to this day, “M” ensures buyers of the presence of a finely-tuned, wildly athletic six, eight, or — once upon a time — 10-cylinder gasoline engine under the hood. Only in recent years has the sub-brand seen new products that threaten to water down the purity of the designation (the X5 M and X6 M), but at least those models stick to the basic power formula.

BMW knows, however, that the gas-only party can’t last forever. The automaker now admits its foray into electrification will not end with its stock models and “i” sub-brand. “M” is poised to get a dose of “e,” and BMW’s not exactly sure how it feels about that.

Speaking to Autocar, BMW vice president Dirk Hacker blames ever-tightening European emissions regulations for the future hybrid M variants. Development has already begun, he said.

“We cannot avoid the need for electrification and it is true that we are working on hybrid power already,” said Hacker. “For now, all I will say is that we are working on a very precise technical solution, but there is no final decision on how to deploy the concept.”

The biggest problem facing BMW engineers is the weight gain stemming from a hybrid powertrain’s battery pack. Purists no doubt wonder how such a configuration could upset a car’s weight distribution. Still, with European cities falling all over themselves to be first to outlaw (or tax to the gills) all fossil fuel-burning cars that dare enter their borders, getting a hybrid M into development was seen as a necessity.

“Adding mass to performance cars is never ideal,” Hacker added. “But if we can use electrification to install more performance, then we start to have the answers. That might be more speed, or it might be the ability for a car to be driven on electric power in a city. It might also be the case that we need different answers to that question in different cities.”

It’s certainly a European focus for now, but there’s nothing stopping BMW USA from selling these green Ms once they roll off assembly lines — assuming consumer demand exists (and that’s a valid question). You can still drive into U.S. cities without paying a penance for your dirty ICE.

BMW’s engineers might have a tough go of it in the short-term, but there’s better solutions on the horizon. Within a few years, the automaker plans to adopt new platforms for all models that allows for a range of electrified powertrains. Next-generation batteries and electric motors arrive in 2021.

If news of a hybrid M car has you worried that Acura executives have secretly replaced BMW brass, fear not. The automaker will apparently fight till the bitter end to keep gas-only performance cars in its lineup.

“For some enthusiasts, they will always have advantages, and we have seen with the sales of the M2, which are well past expectations, that these are the kinds of cars many enthusiasts still want.” Hacker said.

If that purity does disappear, well, blame the government.

[Image: BMW]

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22 Comments on “BMW Developing Hybrid M Cars, Whether It Wants to or Not...”

  • avatar

    What, hybrid cars can’t be high performance?


    • 0 avatar

      “Continuing to this day, ‘M’ ensures buyers of the presence of a finely-tuned, wildly athletic six, eight, or — once upon a time — 10-cylinder gasoline engine under the hood.”

      cough…E30 M3…

  • avatar

    I love it when people make the case that CAFE never forces the car companies to manufacture overly complex and expensive vehicles they don’t want to (or that consumers want) while simultaneously saying we can’t get rid of CAFE, because car companies will only build the profitable cars consumers actually want.

    You can’t have it both ways.

  • avatar

    Since when has the M division made weight a priority?

    Tesla Model X P100D 5,377
    BMW X5M 5,260 lbs
    Tesla Model S P100D 4,941
    BMW M5 4,387
    Tesla Model 3 3,814
    BMW M3 3,540

    It’s difficult to take these comments at face value considering how heavy the M cars already are. There’s about a 10% or less difference in mass between a BMW M car and the comparable Tesla model which offers radically higher levels of performance. BMW’s comments smells more like an excuse for missallocating their powertrain development funds. The tightening of regulations isn’t what’s going to drive sports car customers to EVs. It’s the fact that EV powertrains have already blown away the very best ICE setups and we’re still in the infancy of the EV transition (see Tesla Roadster.) There’s a reason Porsche, McLaren, and Ferrari chose to electrify their hypercars and it had nothing to do with emissions. Despite their public comments, BMW clearly knows that there is no easy way to reduce weight or increase the power of their ICE M cars without electrification regardless of emissions regulations. While I love my i3, with hindsight, it’s clear that BMW made the wrong bet on CFRP and the i brand. They could have built a battery factory and had a BMW 3e and 5e years before VW and Daimler figured out the game. I worry that BMW just doesn’t have the resources to turn it around now. I hope they do.

    • 0 avatar

      300 lbs for the 3 vs 3 and 600 lbs for the 5 vs S are huge differences. Carmakers spend huge money to take 50 or 100 lbs off without losing chassis stiffness and safety margins. The problem with hybrids is the that battery power density is very poor compared to gasoline – the 230 kilo battery in the i3 provides about the same range as 15 kilos of gasoline, which means a hybrid version needs to take massive weight off through very expensive carbon fiber, aluminum, etc. in order to not pork up too much.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re using all electric models to compare to hybrids, not really apples to apples. Hybrids have an ICE powertrain in addition to battery packs and electric propulsion components, so naturally they will tend to weigh more. Unfortunately for BMW, the popularity of high end luxury EVs is pretty much limited to brands that start with “T” and end with “esla” so they’re stuck trying to appease their mainstream customers with compliance tech.

    • 0 avatar

      And in the meantime, we can put our deposits (Founders Club) towards a Tesla Roadster, and sit back and wait for delivery…

  • avatar

    Buy now boys. Hellcats. Mustang GT. ETC.

    The electric crap is coming soon. Yes. CRAP!

    I know, I know I m a Neanderthal.

  • avatar

    It feels like a lifetime ago when BMW’s M division was building naturally-aspirated 8000RM scream machines.

    • 0 avatar

      If the regulations stay they way they are, expect to see the hybridization of nearly every performance and mainstream brand in the next 6 years. It’s the closest thing to a practical solution.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand the aversion to electrification. Let’s compare a turbo system to a hybrid system. E90 328i vs 335i = 200lb and 70HP difference, with (strangely) about the same MPG. Camry vs Camry hybrid = 250lb difference, with similar total power, but the Hybrid gets like 40% better gas mileage. The lack of more total power is largely due to how it’s configured- the electric motor is good for ~150HP; so if that were combined with the engine before the transmission (i.e. like a flywheel or torque converter) I imagine it could add much more to the peak.

    Plus it could reduce brake sizing, at least on street cars, thanks to regenerative braking. It could also allow for a much needed resurgence in simpler, naturally aspirated engines via “torque fill”. Turbo systems also put weight in bad places- intercoolers go on top or all the way out at the nose- while hybrids lower and centralize the car’s CoG. N/A or not, hybrids would also enable a much more natural throttle response too. There are just a ton of benefits there, but people have to get past the “herp derp Prius” association with hybrids to see them.

    • 0 avatar

      Hybrid components add a very significant cost that consumers aren’t prepared to offset with direct dollar for dollar cost increases. A cab driver who uses their Camry hybrid in the city will see their costs offset in a reasonable amount of time. The private user who commutes on the highway won’t for a very long time if ever.

    • 0 avatar

      Emergency stops (w/o regen) and weight are probably what determines brake system sizing, so it’s unlikely they can shrink in electric vehicles – 10% more weight means 10% more kinetic energy that needs to be dissipated as heat.

      Regen does mean the pads & rotors will probably last at least 100K

  • avatar

    The Ultimate Driving Machine is going to get a lot quieter.

    Its starting to feel like our global charging infrastructure is way behind the curve…

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Gas is still too cheap. I own 19L of displacement and driving/piloting any one of them is easier and cheaper than walking or pushing them. Or swimming.

  • avatar

    Not to be a pendant, but I believe the photo at the head of this article is of a 440i (albeit with an M Sport package), not an M4 or other M car.

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