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Text | Mattheus Wee
Photos | Low Fai Ming, BMW

25 MAY 2022
From the BMW i3, to its EVs of tomorrow: Sustainability isn't just a buzzword at BMW, but a sacred value that sharpens it as a brand of aspirational luxury.

The year is 2013.

It won't be another two years until the Paris Climate Accords are set into motion, and certainly long before the term 'EV' has become widely embraced in the automotive scene. But in September, a curious-looking, blue-accented and pint-sized hatchback from the future is already turning every head at the Frankfurt Motorshow.

The BMW i3 was prescient, then, to say the least. Ambitious and visionary, it tackled a goal that many had spoken of, but few - if none - committed to realising: Full electrification en masse. It was a (green) magician too, performing the neat trick of being unmistakeable as a BMW, while also being nothing like any other car, BMW or not, before it.
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Nine years on, one still marvels at the BMW i3 because of the no-holds-barred approach with which it was meticulously engineered and produced to meet the innovative and premium standards known to BMWs.

Lucky us, then - because it is exactly this legacy that the BMW i cars of today follow, and continue to strengthen.

Renewable from start to finish

Back when it debuted, the BMW i3 was a Goliath-like venture that concerned itself not simply with the skin-deep sheen of sustainability, but the heart of it. That meant that while the complete elimination of tailpipe emissions - no easy feat in itself - was a key quality for the car, BMW knew that it wouldn't suffice to stop there. It had to dig even deeper.
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As such, efforts were made to ensure that the energy powering production of the car's largely carbon-fibre body was from renewable sources. The Leipzig plant where the BMW i3 was built also relied completely on a natural source of power - wind turbines kept the facility up and running.

Such efforts trace themselves back to three general scopes the BMW Group recognises as responsible for carbon emissions - the supply chain, vehicle production process, and use phase of its vehicles. Steady inroads have been in the works towards emission reduction on all possible fronts.
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2020 marked the watershed year when the BMW Group fully pivoted towards renewable energy sources for its own production. An undertaking on the grandest of scales for any large corporation, the milestone is even more impressive when one considers that the company delivers approximately 2.5 million cars every year.
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The trail-blazing, climate-conscious torch of the BMW i3 is also being handed over to the new technology flagship of the i division, the BMW iX. The Dingolfing plant, from which thousands of BMW iXs roll out every week, is powered by hydro-electric power supplied from regional grids.

But naturally (pun intended), there's more.

In its latest, fifth iteration, BMW's eDrive drivetrain operates using an electrically excited synchronous motor, which negates the requirement for customary magnets (it relies on electromagnetic fields instead). Rare earth metals - long a sticking point for the green credentials of EVs - have now been removed from the equation, representing a significant step forward for manufacturing processes in the automotive space.
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The auto industry is a vast ocean in which supply chains often get scrambled, but BMW has also been trekking upstream to take responsibility for its suppliers. Lithium and cobalt - still vital components for batteries - are sourced from plants in Australia and Morocco that have been certified for transparency and ethical practices, while solar energy is now harnessed for the fabrication of aluminium.

Recently, the BMW Group also joined the Leather Working Group, a worldwide non-profit organisation whose goal is to ensure leather supply chains worldwide adhere to uniform environmental and social standards.

Luxury redefined, for a more sustainable and dynamic future

There are many facts of life that one doesn't second-guess, such as the colour of the sky, or that BMW is synonymous with luxury.
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As a reigning auteur of the automotive industry, it is not with a heavy hand but quiet confidence (and readiness) that it has embraced the 'challenge' of sustainability. While uninformed biases may incorrectly associate sustainable processes and materials with a dearth of quality, the BMW i line-up is on a never-ending victory lap to disprove this.

Take the BMW iX's interior as an example, which is a fresh, calming and premium feast for the senses. All that gorgeous leather we love is tanned with olive leaf extracts in contrast to the typical, more pollutive process of chrome tanning. Physically underpinning the stunning crystal-like rotary knob that controls the new Operating System 8 (paired to the crisp BMW Curved Display) as well is FSC-certified wood.

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Like the BMW i3, the BMW iX's floor mats are also made of Econyl, a composite nylon yarn that repurposes harmful synthetic waste, including used fishing nets. While providing all the chromatic versatility and sturdiness of virgin nylon (Econyl is robust enough to be recycled and regenerated), production is far less resource-intensive.

Speaking of recycling, close to 60 kilos of recycled plastic are carefully integrated into the body of each BMW iX. Part of the careful emission-reducing design of the BMW iX has also allowed it to utilise far less chrome than equally-sized SUVs.

Again, however, it's not simply about how it feels to sit inside the car. Rather than fear the demands of efficiency as a death knell to driving pleasure, BMW has once again interpreted things on its own terms - and to our benefit and delight.
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The BMW i3 was notable for being a zippy yet planted pocket rocket, and the BMW iX now builds on its revolutionary CFPR-centric (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic) body - essentially made of the same expensive, lightweight magic that goes into F1 cars - to reap unimaginable weight savings and effect unparalleled torsional stiffness.

Coupled with a slippery drag coefficient of 0.26cd and two electric motors, it takes some time to comprehend the sensory experience of its show-stopping performance, as you inevitably find yourself wondering: "Is this really a 1.7 metre-tall, 5 metre-long SUV?". The BMW iX M60, co-developed with BMW M, even has 611bhp and more than 1000Nm of torque on tap while still managing up to 566km on a full charge.
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This is just the beginning, of course. As new models continue to arrive, we can look forward to seeing more secondary materials appear on and inside our BMW i cars, coupled with more efficient production and engineering innovations. More importantly, however, we can expect that these will only sharpen their build quality and dynamism.

No one left behind: The best of BMW electrified with sense and measure

Encouraging customers to go electric is much more about just offering them EVs; it's also about enabling them with what's necessary. That also means providing them with options.

When 2023 comes around, one fully electric model will exist in nearly all of the segments occupied by the BMW Group. Leading the pack will be well-loved mainstays, including battery-electric versions of the BMW 5 Series sedan, the BMW X1 compact-SUV, and the recently unveiled BMW 7 Series.
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The well-loved MINI Electric will also be joined by an all-new electric crossover for the small car segment, and a compact crossover model. By 2030, 50% of all new car sales for the Group will be fully electric.

This well-calibrated balance - not just across a diverse line-up of models, but between the Group's revered combustion engines and cutting-edge EVs - is testament to its cognisance of the different needs of its wide customer base. But what about the ins-and-outs of daily driving and ownership, one may ask?
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Range anxiety is easily quashed considering the class-leading ranges of the BMW iX3, BMW iX and most recently the BMW i4 (the eDrive40 boasts up to 591km on a single charge!), thanks to the strides BMW has made in terms of battery efficiency.

Crucially, these models are coming at a time when resources for charging infrastructure are getting ramped up for drivers at lightning speed. The scene for EVs in Singapore was jolted most recently with a commitment by the authorities to construct at least 3 charging points in nearly 2,000 HDB car parks over the next 3 years. As part of the Singapore Green Plan, 40,000 charging points are planned for public car parks by 2030.
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On its own, BMW has also actively explored and introduced collaborations with energy providers to seamlessly integrate charging into the everyday routines of BMW i drivers. Built future-proof, BMW i cars can also handle fast charging at even high power ratings than what is currently available. As little as half an hour is all it can take for re-juicing to 80%.

Enduring luxury

What does luxury mean? Specifically, what does it mean in 2022?

If careful craft and a no-compromises approach to quality have always defined luxury, the twenty-first century now also demands that the constraints of our natural environment be taken into account.
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The former can no longer exist without the latter. But as BMW i cars show, both requirements only serve to reinforce each other. From the most primary of materials, to the nuances of driving and ownership, every bit is more measured, purposeful and refined than ever.

Wafting along in the BMW iX - hands on the wheel, back against the supple, olive leaf extract-tanned leather - one is reminded that BMW's synonymy with luxury is ultimately informed by an intuitive awareness of not just what we need but what we want as drivers. The marque has succeeded at this for many decades thus far, and surely, will do so for many decades more.
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