Germany's Transition to EV-Land Sounds Slightly Unpleasant

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
germanys transition to ev land sounds slightly unpleasant

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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21 of 34 comments
  • TheBrandler TheBrandler on Apr 11, 2019

    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.

    • See 13 previous
    • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Apr 14, 2019

      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.

  • Trackratmk1 Trackratmk1 on Apr 11, 2019

    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.

    • See 4 previous
    • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Apr 12, 2019

      @JimZ Same here - you build one chassis and body itself it styled according to market requirements. It is like all laptops were made in Taiwan by the same company.

  • MaintenanceCosts All I want is one more cylinder. One more cylinder and I would happily pay the diesel fraud company almost whatever they wanted for it.
  • SPPPP US like Citroen - nothing moves.
  • Jeff S Corey--Thanks again for this serious and despite the lack of comments this is an excellent series. Powell Crosley does not get enough recognition and is largely forgotten even in his hometown of Cincinnati although the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Airport has 2 Crosley cars on display. Crosley revolutionized radios by making an affordable radio that the masses could afford similar to what Henry Ford did with the Model T. Both Crosley and Ford did not invent the radio and the car but they made them widespread by making them affordable. I did not know about the Icyball but I did know about Crosley refrigerators, airplanes, cars, and radios.
  • Oberkanone C5 Aircross is the only vehicle that would have any appeal in North America. Can't see it doing well with Citroen badge, maybe a chance with Chrysler badge.
  • Oberkanone 1921 thru 1936 are the best
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