The BMW Group has recently concluded its Electric Days press conference, which was a venue for them to showcase its current and future plans for its powertrain technologies. The group already has a number of mild-hybrids (MHEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and fully electric vehicles (EVs) in their line-up. However, there’s one type of electrified vehicle that’s missing from the BMW Group’s portfolio: the traditional parallel hybrid electric vehicle (HEV). HEVs are also marketed as “self-charging hybrids” by Toyota and Lexus.
First and foremost, what is a parallel hybrid? A parallel hybrid powertrain system has an electric motor and a combustion engine that runs either simultaneously or independently. The parallel hybrid is the system that most of us are familiar with and is also the most common type of hybrid around the world.
The battery pack of a parallel hybrid is small, usually around 1.3 kWh in the case of the Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8 V Hybrid we were able to drive before. This means the car’s all-electric range only hovers at around two or three kilometers at best. Toyota and Lexus simply popularized the term “self-charging” since the small battery doesn’t need to be charged through the main grid. It is also their way to differentiate its traditional HEVs from its own PHEVs.
PHEVs, on the other hand, are basically parallel hybrids with significantly larger batteries. These hybrid systems are often able to travel for as much as 30 to 50 kilometers on pure electric power. Since the daily commute of most drivers fall within a PHEV’s typical electric range, it’s certainly possible for the owners of these vehicles to travel to work or to the nearby mall without spending a drop of fuel. You can still drive a PHEV without fully charging it since these cars operate exactly the same as parallel hybrids, though it’d be a shame not to enjoy the significant environmental benefits that a large battery pack provides.
So then, why is the BMW Group not in favor of so-called self-charging hybrids? It is mainly because of the minimal benefits that these traditional HEVs offer. Wieland Brúch, BMW i and Electromobility Spokesperson explained that their opinion towards PHEVs is similar to the views of numerous governments and communities around the world.
In Europe, there are a total of around 250 low-emission zones dotted across the continent. These zones either charge or completely ban highly-polluting vehicles from entering. In BMW’s home market in Germany, there are numerous “Umweltzones” in various cities. When driving through these zones, PHEVs enjoy the same financial benefits and incentives as full EVs. This is not exactly the case with the traditional HEV where there are little to no government benefits.
Moving towards the United States, the situation is pretty much the same. Both PHEVs and full EVs are able to benefit from the generous federal tax credit of up to US$7,500, which comes on top of other local state incentives that might be in place. Traditional HEVs, on the other hand, used to enjoy generous benefits in the US, but as these vehicles eventually reached the masses, government incentives started to shift towards more innovative PHEVs and EVs.
Apart from PHEVs, the group is also focused on pure EVs. The BMW i3–which is the group’s first-ever electric vehicle, rides on a dedicated EV platform. In the future, however, the company announced that they have no plans to create a dedicated EV platform anymore. This direction is in line with their “Power of Choice” strategy, in which current and future vehicle platforms will be able to accommodate all powertrain technologies to meet various needs–including hydrogen. Yes, the BMW Group is also in development of a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) together with Toyota.
As for the group’s commitment to the 48V mild-hybrid system (MHEV), Michael Obermeier, Project Manager BMW PHEV Powertrain says that MHEVs enable their cars to have a good balance of weight whilst still having room to add technologies to improve the environmental performance of their combustion engines. He further adds that their MHEV can also reap the same fuel economy benefits as self-charging hybrids.
The latest BMW model to benefit from its MHEV technology is the facelifted 2021 BMW 5 Series. This model is now offered with an MHEV powertrain on the entire line-up. Aside from its fuel economy benefits, the MHEV’s starter-generator also improves performance by providing an electric boost effect depending on the drive mode. This instantly puts an additional 11 hp on tap when needed by the driver.
With the BMW Group still remaining committed to the internal combustion engine in the coming years, Mr. Brúch adds that all of its future gasoline and diesel engines to feature MHEV technology.