By on April 11, 2019

Yesterday, we discussed Volkswagen trouble in finding the perfect recipe for affordable electric cars. Today, its BMW’s turn, and a broader look at how electrification is affecting Germany on the whole.

Reducing auto emissions has become immeasurably stylish in countries across the globe, with Europe doing some of the heaviest lifting via stringent regulatory measures. As a result, Germany’s automotive sector intends to go green and push EVs to the forefront. While BMW may not have committed itself to electrification quite so thoroughly as Volkswagen, the company isn’t sitting around while the competition does everything. The company is making concerted efforts of its own. Still, there are drawbacks to upending established supply chains and dumping a fortune into developing an entirely different type of car. 

Bloomberg did a stellar analysis of BMW’s current situation this week, loading it with pertinent data, and painting a pretty mixed picture. It’s a picture that’s representative of the industry overall. Internal combustion engines are complex, heavy, and loaded with moving parts that have to be sourced and assembled. For electric cars, the big-ticket item is the battery.

Despite Germany and France having pledged a combined 1.7 billion euros in subsidies to finance battery research and development in their respective countries, Asia already has the market cornered. Europe will have battery plants of its own, but China will dwarf them in terms of overall production for the foreseeable future. That, in addition to the less complicated nature of electric motors, means German automakers aren’t going to need quite so many hands.

From Bloomberg:

Last month, expecting a 10 percent slump in profit this year, the company said it would begin a 12 billion-euro efficiency campaign to pay for this battery-focused revamp. Starting in 2021, meanwhile, BMW plans to eliminate up to 50 percent of drivetrain options.

About a third of its 133,000-strong workforce has been trained to handle production of electric vehicles — and it’s clear that all of today’s employees won’t be necessary for tomorrow’s tasks.

Like Volkswagen, BMW intends to dramatically simplify its engine offerings in the coming years. Bloomberg’s anecdotal evidence may spark concern for frontline workers, but it’s the research that concerns us the most. A joint study from the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Germany’s incredibly powerful IG Metall union estimated that 75,000 of the 210,000 positions responsible for manufacturing German’s engines and transmissions will be obsolete by 2030. But only around 25,000 are presumed to be created thanks to EVs.

That, in addition to aggressive cost-cutting measures aimed at freeing up capital for mobility projects and EV development, effectively means electrification kills jobs. But this is the part where we tell everyone to postpone their freakout.

While widespread electrification is absolutely coming, assuming it will automatically end the internal combustion era overnight still feels like a stretch. Automakers, especially those from Germany, are pushing aggressively into the world of EVs and want to make their sale a substantial portion of their annual production volume in just a few years. And yet EV sales have remained borderline superfluous and could be laughed off, were they not steadily gaining ground — modest though it might be.

Incentivized or mandated by governments across the globe, EVs sales will continue to grow, but no one knows how long public acceptance will take or how complete it will actually be. Electric cars could spend decades as little more than an interesting alternative to gas-burners, stymied by slower-than-anticipated development and a lackluster charging infrastructure, or become completely entangled with ICEs through hybridization — a likelier outcome.

Consumers will still have the final say, which we hope is something automakers and their respective countries accounted for in their planning.

[Image: BMW]

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34 Comments on “Germany’s Transition to EV-Land Sounds Slightly Unpleasant...”

  • avatar

    “effectively means electrification kills jobs”

    This is an interesting point.

    “were they not steadily gaining ground — modest though it might be.”

    I’m not dead; I’m getting better!

    “become completely entangled with ICEs through hybridization — a likelier outcome.”

    Thank you. I’ve only been predicting this for years.

    “Consumers will still have the final say, which we hope is something automakers and their respective countries accounted for in their planning.”

    I hope you’re right although I suspect not.

  • avatar

    “And yet EV sales have remained borderline superfluous and could be laughed off, were they not steadily gaining ground — modest though it might be.”

    I don’t advocate “laughing off” EVs, but take a look at the actual numbers:

    Nearly all the growth in 2018 was due to the Model 3 and nearly all the volume *ever* is due to Tesla. If it wasn’t for Elon “things with a plug” would move sports car volume. Upcoming boutique Audis, Porsches, and Jaguars aren’t going to be much more than water droplets in the automotive ocean.

    Maybe the rest of the world will pull the US along, or maybe there will be a major battery technology breakthrough, but at the present it doesn’t look like we are on the cusp of an ICE-eliminating revolution.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    I personally don’t see a problem with the expansion of non ICE tech as there are distinct betterments when moving from ICE vehicles.
    Interestingly, BC is pushing that direction as per the zero emissions goal for new cars and light trucks by 2040.

    Seriously, with the increasing costs of vehicles, and all the associated hoo ha such as maintenance and insurance, unless you REALLY need a vehicle, its not going to be a relevant discussion, period for many urban dwellers , as the kind of tech in a vehicle you cant or won’t own due to all in costs makes it a non starter.
    Here in BC, my F350 insurance alone was 1900/yr. And that was with a full 43 % safe old fart discount. Sold it and are a one vehicle family now, in part due to the ridiculous money sinkhole and tax generator that a vehicle represents.
    Fewer automaker jobs from the change in tech? More like fewer jobs in the auto sector from high costs or artificially reduced sales via legislated controls. There is only so much demand you can stimulate via rebates and 0% financing over 96 months before something gives.

    • 0 avatar

      “Here in BC, my F350 insurance alone was 1900/yr. And that was with a full 43 % safe old fart discount.”

      What? How?

      Do you have 3 DUIs?

      Big city dwellers are usually super rich or poor with very little in between. So transportation requirements either don’t matter as they never have, or they’re more enslaving than ever to the poor that suffer these oppressive measures.

      • 0 avatar
        Menar Fromarz

        Ah, you obviously haven’t dealt with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. AKA The Dark Lord. A malevolent entity that’ll bleed you dry if you want to own and insure in BC, as they are the monopoly that all drivers must deal with in BC. If there was a benevolent god, ICBC would get buried in concrete.

        • 0 avatar

          Jeez, I can’t imagine paying that much for 1 vehicle, $1,900 is what one could expect to pay for about 3-4 F-350s here. That’s with a low deductible insurance, I have no idea how low you could get it if you started going for higher deductible plans. We’re talking full coverage here of course.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    As long as mfrs hedge their bets by not going all in on EVs, they are effectively planning to fail in the EV market. In turn, this relegates EVs to (growing) niche status for a very long time.

    Frankly, carrying a smaller workforce sounds like a positive thing (long term), unless you think the mfrs serve merely as public jobs programs.

    • 0 avatar

      “As long as mfrs hedge their bets by not going all in on EVs, they are effectively planning to fail in the EV market. In turn, this relegates EVs to (growing) niche status for a very long time.”

      wow, way to slant things so no matter what happens you have a convenient scapegoat.

      so what excuse would you be making if all of the car companies went “all in” on EVs, only to fail to find buyers?

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      Gasoline and its fractions will be around for many years. Diesel makes nearly everything that cars drive on. Bunker fuel gets all of our cheap stuff delivered on massive ships. Even making EV batteries uses huge amounts of fuel. All Air forces need kerosene. US tanks, and many warships, and are turbine-powered. The list is nearly endless. Anyone with a Tesla who cheers when the Blue Angels do a fly-by at a sports game should have to walk home.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “Anyone with a Tesla who cheers when the Blue Angels do a fly-by at a sports game should have to walk home.”

        I don’t know what you mean by that, but I agree with the other stuff you said. I’m not suggesting that gasoline should go away.

        • 0 avatar

          I think the idea is that many EV fans have or are perceived to have a religious fervor for electricity and a passionate hatred for fossil fuels. Combine that with increasing polarization and 4th-grade-level ‘all or nothing’ argumentation… then it becomes an issue of scoring points between ‘sides’ when any perceived ‘inconsistency’ (read: ‘hypocrisy’) comes up [i.e., I have discovered their Achilles’ heel! They use diesel pickups to trailer cars for service! Liars!]

          Reality is much more subtle and nuanced, but we’re devolving to Twitter/soundbite levels.

          Speaking of the Blue Angels (I thought the Thunderbirds were way cool as a kid, then found out the Blue Angels were slightly cooler), the US military has done some very serious research and experimentation into using alternative fuels for jet fighters. Some of the most promising options are a *blend* of conventional/alternative fuels – see? Not clear black and white delineation – plenty of gray to go around.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m an EV fan, but a large part of my income comes from oil investments. I’m also very much into ICE cars as a hobby. Also helped restore some vintage 60s cars. The instant torque and low maintenance make EVs a blast to drive. The anti-EV crowd likes to ignore those aspects. As if someone that purchases a 1,900 hp Rimac EV is only buying it to save the planet. Yeah, right.

  • avatar

    While the loss of jobs is a side effect that of course needs to be addressed, in itself it is no reason to keep status quo. Getting paid to do something doesn’t make it right to do.

    As usual, the truth (or future outcome, in this case) will probably lie somewhere in the middle: EVs, being well-suited for western European and urban distances and electrical infrastructure, will likely dominate those areas, once the newfangledness of the whole thing – a purely psychological problem – goes away and people get used to it. ICEs will continue to make more sense for more sparse and remote areas.

    Golf courses have been using EVs for ages; they make more sense in that environment because of the distances, cargo loads, and (noise) pollution concerns. Horses still have a use, beyond a hobby, in certain places where the infrastructure – roads and energy supply – discourage motor vehicles.

  • avatar

    All this push for electrification is overlooking the obvious middle ground that could capture some serious improvements in fuel economy while not requiring any change in current infrastructure: the series hybrid.

    Koenigsegg has a crazy version of this with their direct drive system. But there are a handful of ways it could otherwise be implemented. The Bolt used a different implementation.

    The basic idea is to have the engine act as a generator and use electrics to propel the car. This allows the engine to be designed to operate over a smaller rev range, eliminates the transmission, and allows for a much smaller battery that need only be geared towards max power output, not max energy density. On top of all that, it’s invisible to the user as they still simply fill up with readily available dino juice.

    Initially I would expect these to be slightly more expensive than normal cars, but in a short time they should be slightly cheaper as they could use much smaller engines, lack a transmission completely, and only require small batteries.

    But no, we are stuck with half-assed hybrid designs, mild hybrids, and full electrics. With the bolt gone and hyper-cars not really relevant, no one today is implementing this system. It’s well proven in heavy equipment – it’s the only thing used in the biggest heavy equipment.

    • 0 avatar
      Ce he sin

      You seem to have re invented the Nissan e-Power system which works just as you’ve described.
      The electric drive system you mention as being used on heavy equipment is used because it copes well with very high torque – it’s actually less efficient than mechanical or hydraulic drive unless combined with battery storage. Caterpillar use conventional torque converter transmission on their huge dump trucks for this very reason and criticise their rivals’ electric drive.

      • 0 avatar

        @ Ce he sin,

        Thank you for your answer. I have also long thought a series hybrid was the way to go as well and have been puzzled at the lack of products in the market. I was unaware of Nissan’s e-power since it is not a thing in the US. In reading about it the efficiency of the system is impressive:

        “Because the wheels are driven by an electric motor, the e-POWER system treats drivers to the powerful, smooth acceleration of an all-electric vehicle, with torque delivery from the system surpassing that of a minivan with a 3.5-liter engine. Used solely to charge the battery, the gasoline engine runs at a constant, optimal speed for maximum fuel efficiency, achieving 26.2 km/L, No. 1 in its class.”

        That translates to 61.6 MPG. If these numbers translate to real world results they look damned efficient to me.

        • 0 avatar

          The Volt was initially supposed to be a series hybrid, until GM found it was simply more efficient to mechanically couple the ICE to the driveline *under certain operating conditions*.

          Man, the geeks lost their minds when they disclosed that. What a betrayal for GM to take away their promised “pure” series hybrid!

          pfft. Sorry nerds, the real world always overrules ideological purity.

    • 0 avatar


      A thought I had in the early days of EV’s/hybrids – why not use a small (potentially very small) turbine in a series hybrid. Simpler, lighter, less internal friction, no reciprocating mass, and can’t turbines burn just about any fuel you feed them? It doesn’t need to be torquey or provide a lot of ultimate power, because electric motors excel at torque and your small battery idea would cover the peaks (similar to a capacitor in an audio amplifier).

      I’ve never gotten a definitive answer – emissions? cost of the turbine itself?

      • 0 avatar

        Gas turbines are less efficient (more so the smaller you make them,) only like being run at 100% load, and have high gas flow rates which makes exhaust emissions after treatment problematic. Plus they have relatively long startup cycles, and hot restarts can be an issue.

    • 0 avatar

      A couple of decades ago I asked my farmer friends (a.k.a. ag producers) why their huge tractors were direct mechanical or hydraulic drive, and not a simpler IC/generator/electric motor system as has long been used for railroad locomotives. My thoughts then were exactly the reasons you specify – optimize the IC performance over a narrow rev range needed to drive a generator for the EMs. The response was system weight is the problem. On the railroad, locomotive weight contributes to the tractive effort so the added weight of a an IC/gen/EM system is not a bad thing. For agriculture however it contributes to soil compaction, a bad thing.
      IC/gen/EM systems have been around in common use for locomotion since WWII, so I suspect that somebody has looked at the relative efficiencies for automobiles…could well be that the added weight offsets any added IC efficiencies.
      And batteries – either in full EV or for a torque booster allowing a smaller IC prime mover in an IC/gen/EM system)- add their own (probably not fully anticipated) hazards for their creation, use, and disposal.

      • 0 avatar
        Ce he sin

        Interesting that you mention only locomotives because multiple unit trains (the ones with engines or motors under some or all of the cars) are generally not diesel electric for reasons of weight, cost and efficiency. Instead they’re diesel hydraulic (multiple fluid couplings) or diesel mechanical (conventional automatic gearboxes). Diesel electric has been used in the past but has become less common. Weight is an issue for passenger commuter trains because you need good acceleration to maintain a decent speed between frequent stops.
        Weight is also one of the factors in electrification – electric trains have a much better power to weight ratio.

        • 0 avatar

          Don’t know what country you are in but in USA diesel/electrics are by far the most common rail locomotive (excluding light rail local public transport systems). Diesel hydraulic was tried in the 60s (Union Pacific with Kraus-Maffei) and proved insufficient, and diesel-mechanical has never seen large locomotive use in USA although small units meant for on-site car moving (e.g. Plymouth) are not unknown. Some of the very early streamliners were also mechanical but very unreliable in use.

          • 0 avatar
            Ce he sin

            Remember I specifically said multiple units, right? Diesel locos are generally electric drive wherever you are. Multiple units, which have much smaller engines (and obviously more of them), not so much. Diesel hydraulic models are widely used and generally very reliable. They have two or three speeds and change between them by filling and draining fluid couplings so no friction materials to wear out. There’s a tendency to move towards conventional automatics which are described misleadingly as “mechanical”.

          • 0 avatar

            Diesel-electrics in the USA have been MU’ed pretty much right from the start, e.g. the GMD FT series, up to the present. Rarely if ever does one see a sole unit other than in yard work.
            Point remains the ICE/Gen/EM May be too heavy for personal vehicles, making some sort of intermediate storage necessary and with potential unanticipated local and global risks.

        • 0 avatar
          Ce he sin

          By multiple unit I don’t mean multiple locos – MU trains have distributed power with underfloor engines and no loco. Think subway train. But yes, the same applies to both them and road vehicles, electric drive is too heavy, too expensive and too inefficient except in the context of hybridisation.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh look, another geek who’s obsessed with the “purity” of a series hybrid.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve wondered why Toyota hooked up with Mazda a while ago and suspect that the rotary engine tech that Mazda has spent time and gold upon might be the object of Toyota’s desire from this match up: a small rotary ICE, running at a constant governed rpm driving a generator for the electrical propulsion system. A small, compact petroleum-fired generator engine that is relatively quiet, light-weight, well balanced for low NVH, and the narrow band of operating speed lends a hand to engineering for better wear and reliability that was somewhat an issue with Mazda’s use of the rotary as a prime mover.

  • avatar

    Assuming for a moment that widespread electrification comes to pass, what are the differentiators going to be between OEMs when they all have the same power delivery feeling (instant torque, silent operation)? Sure you can have some cars with fancier interiors but look, BMW is already saying they’re going to cut down their engine offerings…. to provide electric motors that are generally the same as everyone else’s. What’s left is range and design. And I’m sorry but if you are going to make design a key point, it should have some mechanical uniqueness to back it up. Otherwise it’s just decoration and no substance.

    • 0 avatar

      This, eventually (theoretically) battery cost will settle at a affordable price for acceptable range. At that point what are you buying to differentiate cars, we’ve already proven we can make an EV go 0-60 around 2 seconds, past 400-500 miles range you can question the purpose of paying more for more range. Electric controls, AC, etc are essentially standard across the board.

      We’re starting to see the point now where car companies refuse to offer interesting choices and it’s hard to justify purchasing a product that in many cases are less desirable than the products they replace.

    • 0 avatar

      >>> And I’m sorry but if you are going to make design a key point <<<
      More like: if you are going to make design a key point, for heaven's sake don't design it like an i3 !!!

      The i3 is ugly and awkward on the outside. The inside is worse: ugly, low-rent, and not all that comfortable.

    • 0 avatar

      What is the problem? Design was a main point in 50s-60s. Each year stylists restyled cars while mechanically cars were the same. How aabout coach-building on standard EV chassis?

      Besides BMW knows how to tune chassis. It is still know-how that Asians cannot manage. But I agree than Chinese will dominate market since cars will be no different than TV sets or toasters.

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