BMW predicts EV battery dominance with new Gen6 cylindrical cell

Internal combustion cars focus on engines, but for electric vehicles, batteries are the most important component. BMW has clearly taken this to heart with its next-generation battery platform, part of the electric Neue Klasse due to arrive in 2025. The BMW Gen6 battery system aims to make the company a leader in terms of autonomy, efficiency and cost. I heard the main details at BMW’s Sustainability Through Innovation Day in Munich this week.

The most radical change will be the switch to cylindrical cells. Until now, BMW used rectangular prismatic batteries in its packs. The cells themselves will continue to use NMC chemistry and will be manufactured by existing partners CATL and EVE. The goals of the new cell, unsurprisingly, are to improve energy density, reduce charging time and allow more kWh to be packed into the same space. BMW also hopes to drastically reduce emissions from its production. But the biggest digital improvement will be in the cost.

Batteries currently make up around 40% of the price of a BMW EV (according to the company, basing that figure on the cost of the i4), which is on par with the rest of the industry. With the Gen6 platform, BMW aims to halve the price of its batteries, which would allow its electric vehicles to compete directly on price with its internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. At the same time, energy density will be increased by 20% (by putting more energy in the same pack size), charging time will be reduced by 30% and the new cells will enable BMW’s top vehicles to offer 30 % more autonomy.

Range does not turn out to be a problem for BMW electric vehicles as they are. The BMW i4 eDrive40 promises a very competitive 365 miles (WLTP) and even the performance-oriented M50 version boasts 315 miles. The iX SUV’s WLTP range extends from 257 miles for the xDrive40 to 380 miles for the xDrive50. Add 30 per cent to those top numbers and you’ll get 475 miles of range for a future BMW i4 eDrive40 and an incredible 494 miles for a future iX xDrive50. Anyone with home charging will not use public networks very often if they have this type of range.

Reviewers have found BMW’s cars to do well on their range ratings, but the company is aiming to make further efficiency improvements. At the Sustainability Through Innovation Day, BMW explained that with the Gen6 platform, it will reduce valuable Wh energy consumption by optimizing key areas of the car. EV-specific aerodynamics will save 5 Wh/km, optimized tires an additional 5 Wh/km, powertrain efficiency 15 Wh/km, 4 Wh/km will come from lighter materials allowing for save car weight, and an additional 4 Wh/km will come from improved wheel bearings and EVs. – specific brakes. If you consider that an efficient electric vehicle can manage 4 miles per kWh, or 250 Wh per mile (156 Wh/km), an overall saving of 33 Wh/km is going to add a significant amount of range. This could unlock up to 20% more range.

To produce the new batteries, BMW will build six new factories around the world with its partners CATL and EVE, in addition to the five factories it already operates. Two of them will be in China, two in Europe and two in the United States, Mexico or Canada. Each will be able to manufacture up to 20 GWh of batteries per year. The target of reducing CO2 production by 60% will be achieved by using a percentage of secondary (recycled) materials for lithium, cobalt and nickel in the batteries, as well as green energy during production. In fact, BMW is aiming to make its battery manufacturing completely circular (something Tesla also announced on its Battery Day 2020).

The BMW cylindrical cells will also be 46mm in diameter like Tesla’s vaunted 4680, but will come in two heights of 95mm and 125mm, both taller than Tesla’s 80mm cells. As previously stated, BMW will stick with NMC chemistry rather than switch to the increasingly popular lithium iron phosphate (LFP), although that is an option with Gen6 technology. However, the nickel content will be increased while the cobalt content will be reduced in the cathodes, with more silicon content on the anodes. This is how the 20% increase in volumetric energy density will be achieved – similar to Tesla’s 4680 cells.

BMW also plans to integrate the batteries into the installation space, which the company calls “pack to open body”. It’s also like Tesla’s “structural batteries.” Since battery cells are inherently rigid, you can use them as part of the chassis itself. Faster charging will be aided by BMW’s switch to an 800V transmission, like Hyundai’s E-GMP. This should enable 80% recharges in less than 20 minutes with a 350kW power supply.

While many of BMW’s announcements on its Sustainability Through Innovation Day seem to echo what Elon Musk announced at Tesla Battery Day 2020, that’s not a bad thing. These are very worthwhile improvements and promise huge advancements in scope, cost, and efficiency. Where BMW particularly goes beyond Tesla, which has been highlighted in other parts of the Sustainability Through Innovation event, is its focus on the environment and circularity. All automotive production areas will use recycled materials, from seats to wheels.

BMW will be making ICE vehicles for many years to come, but its intentions to play a leading role in electrification are clear. In the UK, it was already the best-selling electric vehicle brand in August 2022, beating Tesla. The company aims to have more than two million BEVs on the roads by the end of 2025 and expects half of its global sales to be BEVs by 2030. It looked like BMW had gone astray with EVs after an initial strong start with the i3. But if the company delivers on the promise of its Gen6 platform, it could be one of the dominant players in the luxury BEV market, as it has been in the ICE market for decades.

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