Production head Harald Kruger talks about the i3 and i8 developments as the BMW i Mobility Concept seeks to turn everyday travel 100% electric. While the all-electric i3 is designed for emission-free city driving, the plugin hybrid i8 represents ‘the future of the sports car’. As BMW board member for production, Kruger explains how the OEM has invested heavily in its production network, and in particular the plant in Leipzig where the i8 will join the i3 in 2014.
Glenn Brooks (GB): We’ve seen the worldwide ‘Born Electric’ teaser campaign for over a year; is the i3 now rolling off the line at Leipzig?
Harald Krüger (HK): Yes, we have now had what I would call the ‘hot’ phase; production started in September and then we have had the ramp-up, with the German market launch on November 16. We have invested heavily at Leipzig, as you know, but also in the overall production network. We have another location at Moses Lake in the United States (carbon fibre components), as well as Wackersdorf (carbon fabrics), and we have Dingolfing (interior and exterior components), Landshut (electric motors, carbon panels) and Leipzig (final assembly).
HK: Overall, investment at Leipzig has been €100 million and about 800 new jobs for the plant.
GB: How has that money been spent?
HK: We have a completely new structure, new processes. I call it the ‘automotive revolution’. Why do I call it that? The point is, that it’s absolutely different. First of all, you don’t have any press shop in the conventional sense and you also don’t have any paintshop. We have a bodyshop which is completely different; it requires much less space than a standard bodyshop because you only have one third of the parts you would for a conventional steel vehicle. The carbon fibre parts and a reinforced body mean you can have many more parts integrated into one body, like the side frame for example.
Secondly, you don’t have any welding in the bodyshop because of this process we have chosen for the way the car is manufactured. So it’s quiet in the plant and there are far fewer robots as human beings can easily lift so many parts. Then we have a nice assembly hall and new bodyshop which uses another completely different process. In the assembly, you have two parallel systems. One is the assembly of the drive module, which is the aluminium chassis, and then you have what we call the ‘life module’, the outer panels which then are combined in the marriage – the passenger cell, in effect.
If you look at all these processes and the modules, then you see this is the overall automotive revolution. It means that about 50% of the normal production time has been cut, due to a missing paintshop, a missing press shop and a parallel assembly of the life module and the drive module. So it’s absolutely different. It’s light, it’s ergonomic; we have designed every workstation in the assembly [hall], for example, in terms of ergonomics.
GB: Were there any specific environmental goals in the i-Series assembly plant project?
HK: If you look at the overall concept of sustainability, there are two great achievements: we have 50% less energy consumption and 70% less water consumption compared to a standard vehicle manufacturing operation. These were the breakthrough targets we were setting ourselves right at the beginning – a couple of years ago – and we made our targets.
GB: When will you add i8 production at Leipzig?
HK: i8 will come on the market next year, beginning in the second half of 2014.
GB: Will it be a more complicated vehicle to assemble?
HK: Not too much. It is different, but not too much because they [the workers] are following the same principles [as the i3 and i8] in terms of glueing processes in the bodyshop. So we developed both cars’ production processes together. Okay, the body panels are different, but the principle processes of manufacturing and assembly are the same.
GB: These cars are both i-Series vehicles but their drivetrains are quite different, aren’t they?
HK: The i3 is an EV, but we offer a two-cylinder, 600cc gasoline engine as a range extender for those customers who would like to have it as an optional extra [€4,500 in Germany and $3,850 in the US]. The i8 is completely different; it is a plug-in hybrid and the distance to drive is round about 35 kilometres in electric mode. It has a threecylinder gasoline engine which is made at Hams Hall. We had the start of production there in September. For a true sports car it is good to have such a nice engine from the UK. GB: What sort of build numbers do you plan for the first two i models? Some sources have spoken of a 40,000 combined annual capacity.
HK: It is open. BMW manufacturing is about flexibility and we will deliver what the market demands.
GB: What number would make you happy as BMW’s manufacturing director?
HK: Every customer order makes me smile. We are flexible, so we will see.
GB: Are there any major markets where these cars won’t be available?
HK: No, not at this moment. I mean, we will have a step-bystep introduction to the big markets: the UK, the US, China, Japan, the Netherlands and then others.
GB: China? That’s a surprise when the recharging infrastructure is not really there yet.
HK: Yes, but you need to think that this is a not sprint, it’s a marathon. If you look at China in terms of air quality, especially in the cities, then you will see the opportunity and the need for more electric vehicles. So, over time, the infrastructure will develop.
GB: If the cars are successful, in five to ten years’ time, what percentage of BMW manufacturing would be taken up by i-Series cars?
HK: It’s really difficult to give a prognosis. So, on the one side it depends on the environmental framework conditions. Then you must ask, is there some government support? Take a country like the Netherlands. It’s a small place but there is much support for electric vehicles, for hybrid vehicles, and sales have grown significantly. Overall, if you look at worldwide regulations, you need electric vehicles.