• BMW Could Be One of the Last Manufacturers to Drop the Internal Combustion Engine

Things will change but it will be a long time before BMW is an all-electric brand

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Like its main competitor, Mercedes, BMW is spending some serious cheddar on research and development of electric vehicles and related technologies. And, like Mercedes, it will be bringing a handful of new EVs to the market, the first of which will be the iX3 that comes later this year. The iX3 will be followed up by the iNext shortly thereafter. That leaves a lot of people wondering just when BMW will make a hard left away from fuel-powered engines and start producing nothing but EVs. For most, this is a question of purity and uncertainty of what the brand will become. Can the legacy of BMW M survive in an all-electric market? What about the heart and soul that is pumped from each and every one of BMW’s six- and eight-cylinder engines? What about the legendary and almost unicorn-like V12 that’s available in the M760i?

BMW’s Four- and Six-Cylinder Engines Are Here for the Long Haul

BMW Could Be One of the Last Manufacturers to Drop the Internal Combustion Engine
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The idea of BMW’s lineup being mostly electric looks promising for some but troubling for others. Purists and fanboys are probably the ones that frown at that inevitable future the most. But, the truth is, that future isn’t as close as it might seem as BMW (nor any other automaker, for that matter) can make a dramatic shift into an EV brand overnight. And, in the case of BMW M, like Bugatti, McLaren, and other legacy-rooted brands, all-electric models will only happen when the technology will allow that legacy to continue without compromise. The same can be standard for non-M BMW models as well.

In an interview with Automotive News Europe,

BMW’s R&D Boss, Klaus Froehlich, came right out as said that the company will be sticking with ICEs for a long time to come.

In fact, they’ll be in the lineup for “decades.” He claims that four- and six-cylinder turbodiesels will be around for at least 20 more years and gasoline engines? Those will be around for at least 30 years. With that in mind, it won’t be the same in 10 or 15 years years that it is today….

Hybridization Will Become Common Across the Lineup

2020 BMW 7 Series
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Froehlich didn’t come right out and say that the brand would switch over to hybridized engines across its whole lineup, but he did point out that changes will have to be made to meet stricter emissions regulations. This means that a majority of the lineup could become hybridized with the engines producing less power and the EV tech making up for it. The 4.4-liter V-8 found largely across the lineup won’t be the first to go, but it’s living on borrowed time. It’s capable of producing 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque in the BMW 750i, for example, but it’s also become obsolete in a general sense. Nowadays, a six-cylinder engine paired with a good hybrid system can easily produce the same power and enough torque to make your wallet cry when you put the hammer down. It’s not scheduled to be phased out just yet, but by the time the next-generation of BMW’s starts rolling in, expect hybrid V-6 engines to replace the traditional V-8s.

BMW 750i drivetrain specifications
Engine 4.4-liter V-8 engine
Engine power 523 hp @ 5500-6000 rpm
Engine torque 553 lb-ft @ 1800-4600 rpm
Transmission type Automatic
0-60 mph 3.9
Top speed (with perf. tires) 130 (155)
2017 BMW M760Li xDrive High Resolution Drivetrain
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The first engine that will go is the 6.6-liter V-12 that you can currently get in the M760i.

That beastly V-12 is good for 600 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque, and it enables a car as large as the 7 Series to smack down a 3.6-second sprint to 60 mph and easily attain a top speed of 155 mph. That with a curb weight of 5,150 pounds or more than 2.5 ton. The problem is that the engine is in short demand, with BMW selling just 2000-3000 examples of the M760i annually. Spending the money to revamp it to comply with emissions regulations just isn’t worth it. So, it’s definitely on the chopping block first and foremost. It will continue to stick around for now, but by 2023 BMW’s V-12 will probably be retired.

BMW M760i specifications
Engine 6.6-liter V-12
Horsepower 600 HP
Torque 627 LB-FT
0 to 60 mph 3.6 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph

It’s Sad to See the V-8 Go, But Trading Off Two Cylinders Will Save Your Soul

2018 BMW M5 High Resolution Drivetrain
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...And what the badge really means!

The 4.4-liter V-8 has played a major role in BMW’s lineup and has become the poster child for performance in a lot of M models, including the M5, M6, X5 M, and X6 M. However, at its best, it produces 600 horsepower (see the X5 M, M5, and M8, for example,) a figure that can easily be met with a less-thirsty six-cylinder and an electric motor. The problem is that as emissions regulations strangle automakers these models will have to become more expensive – expensive to the point that they will be priced outside of their worth. As the cost of not meeting emissions requirements increases, BMW either has to adapt by upgrading and refining the V-8 or it has to pass the cost of fines onto buyers. Upgrading and refining will likely be cheaper, but the costs will still send the price of all models upward.

BMW M5 specifications
Engine 4.4-liter V-8
Horsepower 600 HP @ 5,600 – 6,700 RPM
Torque 553 LB-FT @ 1,800 – 5,600 RPM
Transmission Eight-speed M Steptronic
0 to 60 mph 3.4 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph

This is where trading off a pair of cylinders will save your soul. B

y replacing the 4.4-liter V-8 with, say, a 3.0-liter inline-six paired with hybrid technology, BMW can deliver the same 600 horsepower (or a little more) while still meeting or coming closer to emissions requirements.

On top of that, BMW can continue to provide mild performance increases as time goes on thanks to the nature of electric motors and their instantaneous torque. In the end, you’ll avoid skyrocketing prices, see better performance, and attain better fuel economy. It’s a win-win as long as you can get past losing that roar of the V-8 for the unique tune of an inline-six.

It’s a fair trade-off and a necessary one. And, you can rest assured that BMW is going to do it right. The same driving dynamics and soul that you’ve come to love from BMW will carry over into these soon-to-be electrified models. More importantly, by going this route BMW is able to preserve the internal combustion engine well into 2040 or 2050, and that my friends, is the most important point – especially if you’re one of the many that same feeling of soul or spirit in an electric car.

Final Thoughts

BMW Could Be One of the Last Manufacturers to Drop the Internal Combustion Engine Exterior Drivetrain
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At the end of the day, we all have to come to terms and make peace with the fact that the internal combustion engine that we’ve come to rely on over the last century is going to die off and be replaced by alternative forms of propulsion. It’s bound to happen and the beginning of the end has already come an gone. As time goes on, more and more automakers will slowly shift their lineup into EV territory. Not even the world’s most luxurious and exquisite automakers are immune and someday future generations of human will look at gas-powered vehicles much like we do the horse and buggy. The good news is that this shift isn’t going to happen overnight, and by the time the ICE is gone, we will have already adjusted and forgotten what was so great about engines in the first place. The only question left in my mind is whether or not we’ll still be driving ourselves in 2030 and 2040 as it seems the world is inching itself toward a fully autonomous future.

Robert Moore
Robert Moore
Editor-in-Chief and Automotive Expert - robert@topspeed.com
Robert has been an auto enthusiast his entire life. He started working cars at a young age, learning the basics from his father in the home garage on the weekends. As time went on, Robert became more and more interested in cars and convinced his father to teach him how to drive when he was just 13 years old. Robert continued working on cars in his free time and learned as much as he could about engines, transmissions, and car electrical systems, something that only fed his curiosity more and eventually led him to earn a bachelors degree in automotive technology with a primary focus on engine performance and transmission rebuilding.  Read full bio
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