We spoke with Robert Irlinger, Senior Vice-President BMWi: “our e-mobility strategy is well underway, and is now one of our core competences”


The BMW Group has been working on its strategy for future (e) mobility for years now. Since 2007, they we have grown to a new level, thanks to their Strategy Number ONE. With this strategy, BMW put its BMW EfficientDynamics technology package and, even more importantly, BMW i on the road. Development on the clever and iconic i3 then started in 2008.

Already back in back in 2010, BMW decided to offer all types of drives in all vehicle segments from the next decade on, and to do so depending on market demands: state-of-the-art, efficient, clean combustion engines; plug-in hybrids starting in 2015; and fully electric, battery-powered drives from 2021 onward.

ACES as strategy in NEXT

ACES as strategy in NEXT…

BMW the revised the strategy in 2016 to – Number ONE > NEXT – and has added new topics, namely digitalization, autonomous driving and the far-reaching rollout of e-mobility.

When BMW started to implement this revised strategy in 2016, they realigned their organizational setup in research & development. In doing so, they focused on two top priorities: Digitalization, which includes the extension of connectivity, the application of artificial intelligence, and the development of autonomously driving premium vehicles. The second priority was Drive technology, with EfficientDynamics NEXT for the combustion engines, and the development of semi- and fully electrified vehicles with battery and fuel cell technologies.

Mix drivetrains

The BMW mix of (future) drivetrains: Battery operated/Plug-in-hybrid, fuel cell and last but not least combustion engine...

The driving force of these numerous trendsetting technologies is iNEXT, which is enabling the entire company and all brands to deal with these issues of the future.

In 2021, when the BMW iNEXT is scheduled to hit the roads, it will have integrated all strategic innovation topics for the mobility of tomorrow.

All the more reason to have a talk on the last Brussels Salon with Robert Irlinger, Senior Vice-President BMWi and Peter Henrich, CEO of BMW Group Belux.

Just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel


Robert Irlinger talked to us about the BMW e-future…

At the start of our conversation, Peter Henrich made introductory remarks about the present function of Robert Irlinger:

“Maybe it is useful to describe here more his function, before he will say more about himself. In Munich we are in a structure where we organize so-called development projects, where all the engineering functions come together, and are being formed to one car, and there are several product families, we call them product lines, and Robert is heading everything about BMW i. He has the overall responsibility, not only for development, but also purchase and production, and he is senior vice president, so he reports directly to the management board member, Hans Fröhlich, who is chief of development worldwide of the whole BMW group.”

Hans Knol ten Bensel: “And you are the successor of Mr Ulrich Kranz, who stood at the cradle of the i3, and whom you assisted all those years as an expert engineer. Your brief is the i 2.0?” (Editor  Note: with this project i 2.0, electric mobility, autonomous and interconnected driving will be joined with future mobility concepts. It bundles the digital possibilities in an optimal way, and in 2021 BMW will show with the BMW iNEXT a car which will realize this vision of durable, highly automated mobility.)

e motor

Robert Irlinger: “Not only that, I am also responsible for the further development which we will bring in the i3 and in the i8, and also in the i8 roadster, and I will be also responsible for future development of BMW i, which will be shown in the end in the car we call now the iNEXT. So I have the responsibility for the cars we sell now to the customers, essentially now the i8 and the i8 roadster.”

Hans Knol ten Bensel : “One question which for me stands very big in the room is the development of batteries. How will that affect development of the electric car in the future? For instance, in the next five years, do you see a quantum leap in battery design and performance?”

Innovative battery cells

Robert Irlinger: “The battery is the core element, and yes, there is an enormous speed of improvement in battery technology. For instance, over the last three years, the typical battery is delivering 60 pct more energy. We just decided that within the BMW group, that we will make this a core competence. We will invest 200 million euro’s in a center which will mainly focus on battery technology.

Modular battery system

We want to go into deep research of batteries, and stay on the forefront of battery technology. At least for the next five or ten years we see the development of batteries as a main course, and focus specifically on solid state batteries.”

Hans Knol ten Bensel:  “Will you also engineer the cars as such that the existing battery can be replaced with these higher density batteries without the need for replacing the car?”

Robert Irlinger: “If there is an upgade in battery technology, you will see it in our cars. You see it already in the i3.”

Compressed cell being insterted in casing

Lithium Ion battery cell being inserted into its cell casing… 

Peter Heinrich: “The battery is integrated in the car, so it is rather costly to replace the battery with a higher density one, to retrofit the car involves several thousand euros, and it is a lengthy operation.”

Robert Irlinger: “In the future you will see cars with sufficient range, in around 2021. We just announced that we have cars with a range of 500 kilometers in real customer driving with lithium ion batteries, with the newest modular system, compared to the range of up to 200 kilometers which we have today. From then on I see no immediate reason for customers to upgrade the batteries in their cars. For the second hand market value, we will see that the infrastructure will improve year by year, so we are also positive there. We don’t need solid state battery technology to achieve this 500 km practical range, but it will certainly help us, to make the batteries smaller, lighter and less costly.”

Flexibele electric drive train component

Hans Knol ten Bensel: “When the overall car market will consist for 30 pct of electric cars, their connection to the net will also allow them to store energy and give it back to the grid when it needs it. Do you see this as a realistic proposition?”

Robert Irlinger: “We believe that in 2025, we will reach a share of 20 to 25 pct, and we talk here about electrified vehicles, including (plug in) hybrids as well. Worldwide, the development will be at very different speeds, actually just look at Norway, where you have a very strong political push into electromobility, but there are other countries where the development is much slower. From then on, with a share in the fleet of 20 to 25 pct, electromobility will be at the core.”

Larger battery packs

Hans Knol ten Bensel: “Do you see then this possibility that cars can be hooked up to the net?”

Robert Irlinger: “Definitely. We are already working on solutions like that, intelligent grids. We recently visited the US, we have a pilot project working with 1,000 i3 customers, they really get paid by the grid company for their cars because they are interested in putting these cars off the grid if they see a peak in consumption, it is not yet a smart grid, but they are working on it, as we as BMW do our best to develop the best cars and batteries and offer our customers charging methods and solutions.

BMW i3 94 Ah

Over 70.000 charging points are installed in Europe, and over 100.000 charging points worldwide. Recently an infrastructure project is started to build up charging points along highways. Powerful charging points, with up to 300 kW of charging power.”


Peter Henrich: (photo here above) “Partners will respond in building infrastructure when the business gets visible, it is a chicken and the egg situation.”

Robert Irlinger: “We work together with our competitors here like Audi and Mercedes, because we think it is not wise to stand alone as a car manufacturer in building up its infrastructure. When electric mobility comes of age, there has to be an infrastructure suitable for all.”

Robert Irlinger: “With the i3, we have a large proportion – 70 pct – of non BMW customers, because of the new technology and because the car is really different as well. Within this 70 pct, we have no typical BMW i customers, it is a very wide range. With i8 this is slightly different, it is a more homogenous group, it is a high performance sports car, where the car has also a more specific use as third or fourth car of the household.”

Peter Henrich: “The life cycle of the i3 is rather untypical, the sales are growing every year. But there, it is the mindset which is growing, in Belgium last year, we sold 18 pct more I3’s than the year before.”

Higly integrated drivetrain

Robert Irlinger: “From October on we were sold out with the i3, we could not build more cars, and it will be a similar situation this year. The best years of the i3 are still to come. The i3s will be a success, I am daily driving it now.”

Hans Knol ten Bensel: “You are following the development in China, where a snap political decision might impose the use of electric cars? The quantum leap towards massive use of e-cars might come from there.”

Robert Irlinger: “Indeed, we look very closely at developments, maybe China will be very fast in this point. From 2020 on, we will be able to electrify our complete car range, that is also important to note. It is not decided that this will happen, but from the viewpoint of the architecture of our cars, it is technically possible, and we will be fully flexible. The core of our brand will be electrified, as we showed with BMW i dynamics.”

BMW modles electrified

(Editor note:  The BMW Group is already developing the fifth generation of its electric drivetrain, for release in 2021, in which interaction between the electric motor, transmission, power electronics and battery have been further optimized. A decisive advantage of this future electric drive is that the electric motor, transmission and power electronics are combined in a new and separate electric-drive component.

electric motor being made

Electric motor being made…

With its compact design, this highly integrated new component takes up significantly less space than the three separate components used in previous generations. Its modular concept means that it is also scalable and can be modified for a wide range of different packages and performance levels, increasing flexibility and making it easier to install the new electric drivetrain component in different vehicle derivatives. Integrating the electric motor, transmission and power electronics into a single component uses fewer parts and therefore saves costs.)

Wires of electric motor being made

Copper wiring of electric motor being shaped…

Peter Henrich: “We will let the customer decide, but we will need to give options, it is up to us to sense what the customer will choose in the future. We will have for several years all the technologies available in (the core) of our range.”

Robert Irlinger: “The big step is already done technically, so we will work modular and we have already introduced the generation five powertrain, (see our note above) then another one for autonomous driving, and there is another one for interaction with other vehicles and interconnectivity.”

“From 2021 onwards, all our architectures, the front wheel driven cars and the rear wheel driven cars, will combine with these modular systems, and from then on, we are fully flexible to respond to what the customer needs.”

“In 2020 you will see with the X3 the first car with the generation five powertrain, the newest technology and all the modular systems will come in the iNEXT. From then on, every new car will have parts of the solutions found in the iNEXT, according to the wishes of the customer.”

casing of compact drivetrain handled during assembly

Components of drivetrain being insterted in its compact casing…

Hans Knol ten Bensel: “ It is your engineering, which you co-develop with your suppliers, or is it completely BMW in house engineering?”

Robert Irlinger: “It is different from system to system. When it comes to the electrical powertrain, we are in full control of the engineering, also when it comes to the battery. For example, the battery is produced in house, we only buy the cells. We do the complete in house building of the engines, we work with suppliers when it comes to the power electronics.”

“When it comes to autonomous driving, the integration of all systems is every time BMW owned. The motion control is also something what we already have learned for years. But then when it comes to sensors and artificial intelligence, we pair with the best partners worldwide, like with Intel to handle big amounts of data, and use artificial intelligence to decide what to do. Secondly we pair with Mobile Eye to work with the best sensors, and lastly when it comes to high definition maps, we just bought the Here company, because you need an accurate map as a basis.”

Completed casing being handled

Peter Henrich: “We are open to achieve the best solution, certainly in the domains of infrastructure and data which are not typical to the BMW driving experience.”

Robert Irlinger: “We built up a very good company know how pertaining to cooperation, where to do it and where not. We see worldwide that cooperation is more and more common.”


BMW has strong cooperation partners for its ACES strategy in iNEXT…

Hans Knol ten Bensel: “You will have autonomous driving the BMW way.”

Robert Irlinger: “Definitely, and it will be the customer who will decide. Of course, we still have to make money producing electric cars. This is part of our strategy to develop things in house in order to be a cost leader when it comes to automotive e-technology.

Cell of lithium Ion battery being wrapped

The layers of Lithium Ion Cell are being wrapped… before they are compressed and inserted in de cell casing. 

This is also why we are deep into battery technology for instance. Of course it will be the customer – or the market – will dictate what he wants to pay.”

Peter Henrich: “I think as a company we were brave to start the i3 project, and we have to have to continue to be brave. Everybody talks about e mobility, but we were delivering 100,000 full electric cars last year.”

Hans Knol ten Bensel: “We thank you for this interview.”

Hans Knol ten Bensel