Future BMW electric vehicles will go farther on a charge and will be faster-charging, while costing less to produce. 

That’s among the takeaways from a trove of information from BMW this morning as it detailed its battery strategies for next-generation electric vehicles—including a vastly different plan for the type of cells it will be using: cylindrical cells, like Tesla, Lucid, and Rivian

It’s all due to debut with its next-generation compact to midsize EVs termed Neue Klasse and due starting in 2025 with a model around the size of today’s 3-Series. 

The cylindrical cells (which BMW calls round in a release) involve a diameter of 46 mm and two different heights yet to be disclosed. It’s expected that Tesla’s 4680 is one of those. With it, BMW underscores that volumetric energy density will be boosted by more than 20% versus the prismatic format it locked in for its present EVs.

Comparing 4680 vs. 2170 - Panasonic

Comparing 4680 vs. 2170 – Panasonic

BMW says that with the incorporation of these cylindrical cells plus lithium-ion battery-chemistry changes it will be possible to get a significant increase in range for its highest-range models—up to 30% better. 

An about-face on which battery is better

The announcement confirms a surprising shift in BMW’s battery philosophy that’s been reported from various sources in recent months. BMW’s then-R&D boss Klaus Fröhlich told this correspondent in 2017, as the automaker’s current fifth-generation battery tech was being developed, that we wouldn’t see cylindrical cells in a BMW without a game-changing chemistry, as they’re inherently riskier. 

Cylindrical cells have evolved incrementally since then, and as Tesla pointed out in its Battery Day in 2020, the breakthrough for cylindrical cells is more in the manufacturing, with the potential to make tremendous gains in cost. 

BMW’s Neue Klasse models will use a cell-to-pack strategy, with cell modules eliminated and the pack integrated into the body. They pack will run at 800 volts, with a charging current up to 500 amps. That will cut charge times from 10% to 80% state of charge by up to 30% according to BMW. In the BMW i4, that charging window takes an official 31 minutes, so with the new tech it might be cut to 22 minutes, for instance.

CATL third-generation cell-to-pack tech

CATL third-generation cell-to-pack tech

The automaker also announced the intent to create battery cell factories for China, Europe, and North America—each with an annual capacity of up to 20 gigawatt-hours. That includes factories with CATL and EVE Energy in China and Europe, and the company said that “plans call for two more battery cell factories to be built in the North American free trade zone, USMCA, for which the partners have not yet been nominated.”

US plans in the works

BMW said in 2021 that it would build a future fully electric model in South Carolina. Globally, it currently uses batteries from CATL, Samsung SDI, Northvolt, and EVE Energy. 

With the use of more secondary (recovered) materials and renewable energy for manufacturing, BMW aims to reduce the carbon footprint of battery cell production by up to 60% versus the current battery cell generation. It’s also working to establish circular loops for raw materials and battery cell recycling, with certified mines and a closed loop for nickel, lithium, and cobalt in China.

LFP batteries for some models, battery costs cut in half

Although all of the current BMW EVs—the i4, the iX, and the iX3 that isn’t sold in the U.S.—use the company’s fifth-generation battery technologies, the company said that with its sixth-generation battery tech coming soon there will be the option of using lithium iron-phosphate (LFP) cells for the first time, avoiding cobalt and nickel in the cathode material.

2021 BMW iX3

2021 BMW iX3

The company says that “based on current market assumptions,” it’s been able across development, production, and purchasing to cut battery costs by up to 50%—an astounding accomplishment. Further, it says that it’s set a goal of bringing the manufacturing costs of EVs down to the same level of internal-combustion vehicles.

BMW also said that it will present a demonstrator vehicle with high-voltage all-solid-state batteries “well before 2025.”

There’s a slight shift of the company’s electric vehicle targets in the announcement, too. BMW says that globally it aims to have more than two million fully electric vehicles on the roads, by 2025, and that the Neue Klasse “has the potential to further accelerate the market penetration of e-mobility.” It says that with this addition, it could reach 50% EV sales before 2030.