BMW Plug-In Diesel Concept Wows Europe

bmw-vision-conceptAs concepts go, it’s quite a concept. When BMW moved its Formula 1 engineers to a program that would develop cleaner, greener automobiles, many were skeptical, but the Vision Efficientdynamics Concept (VEC) that was shown at the Frankfurt auto show this month should change a few minds. The slick design features a 356-horsepower AWD plug-in diesel-hybrid concept that can go 31 miles on battery power alone. It also has a top speed of 155 mph, can accelerate to 60 in just 4.8 seconds, and bests the Prius by emitting just 99 g of CO2 per km (while attaining 62.2 mpg).

A bevy of small touches make the VEC a fascinating car, for it shows that engineers have many choices when it comes to making their cars more fuel efficient, and no one size fits all.

The 3-cylinder turbocharged engine is compact, so it weighs less, and lighter cars need less fuel. The diesel is supported by an electric motor on each axle, and the car can run on any combination of motors. The li-ion battery is comprised of 98 cells, weighs 187 pounds, and recharges in just 2.5 hours from a normal household circuit. Of course, braking also recycles energy to the batteries. The result? Most Americans would be able to run the VEC solely off battery power for their daily commute, pushing that 62.2 mpg figure considerably higher.

But the VEC is anything but a commuting car. It boasts a Bondish gull-wing design, and a svelte 0.22 coefficient of drag that lets it slice through wind. I’ve never been a muscle car aficionado, but I’d love to take one for a spin along the PCH or The Cabot Trail.

BMW likely has no intention of making a production model, but the ideas explored in the VEC will bear fruit. BMW is working to make fuel efficiency a core company value, and the company’s 2009 product line cut CO2 emissions by 10.2 percent over the previous year — the best result in the industry.

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.