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More than just pushing the envelope of high-tech luxury, BMW's 7-badged luxury models also reach for a new standard of sustainability.

14 Nov 2022

Look, flagship luxury sedans are very far from cars for the masses. These are luxury models, designed from the outset to be expensive, feature-packed and slightly out of reach for most people. 'Aspirational', I suspect, is what brands would rather term it.

At BMW, aspiration takes the form of the number 7 - a number that certainly means something for the brand. Ever since the first generation E23 model was released in 1977, the 7 Series has always been the flagship full-size luxury sedan. 

For BMW, '7' represents the height of aspiration - evidenced by seven generations of the 7 Series
And while, yes, the introduction of the 8 Series slightly muddles the numbering hierarchy, the 7 Series is the leader of the pack - boasting the latest in technology, luxury and engineering for BMW. I've even been lucky enough to drive a first generation model.

Of course, fast forward 45 years, and there's much more to the 7 than just the 7 Series. As evidenced by my time in Palm Springs, BMW's range-topping 7 now expands to three models - the 7 Series, the X7, as well as the all electric i7.

Confusing? Not quite.


The new 7 Series is impressive in both its technology and luxury fronts
The 7 Series, seven generations on, still retains its fundamental character. It's grown bigger over time (as has design elements like the grille), the overall shape is still familiar - this is a big, full-size sedan.

And, it is still feature-filled. Here we have the latest Operating System 8, the fancy new Interaction Bar, the huge Theatre Screen, automatic doors, and all sorts of top-tier luxury amenities that you could ever want. It is just about as high-tech and feature-packed a car you can find today. 

The i7 brings greater refinement, thanks to an impressive electric drivetrain
Then, we come to the i7. It's in effect an electric 7 Series, but it is precisely it's electric nature that sets it apart. Electric is the future, and while the petrol/diesel-powered 7 Series may have some runway yet, this is in essence the 7 Series of the future.

It's hard to complain - smooth, effortless power, quiet, sublime comfort, it is everything you want your luxury limo to be. It delivers the immense quality and refinement that you expect from a flaship model, augmented by the qualities that only an electric drivetrain can deliver. 

The X7 leans into the SUV demands of the modern era
And of course, to satisfy the sheer demand for SUVs, we now also have an X7. Ironically, amidst this company, you could argue that the X7 is the most 'conventional' car of the trio. It appeals to the most popular segment today, and doesn’t have quite the same tech-forward personality that the 7 Series now has.

But, while there may now be multiple models wearing the 7 badge, the underlying ethos hasn't changed. Every 7 remains BMW's all-in model - delivering the best that the brand has to offer in terms of technology, luxury and quality.


Materials like cashmere wool offer elevated quality and luxury, on top of being more sustainable compared to traditional leather
However, as cars like these continue to push the envelope of luxury with more features, more technology, as just general more-ness, there is a fundamental question to ask: Can luxury and sustainability co-exist?

BMW seems to think so. Well, it should, if it wants to continue producing these cars while hitting already set out goals of carbon neutrality.

In these cars, there's already evidence of this. Besides the obvious electrification, whether fully in the i7, the PHEV 7 Series, or the mild hybridisation of both the 7 Series and X7, there are other means as well. You get as standard the Veganza interior trim, a type of artificial leather that save around 85% on CO2 emissions compared to a full leather trim. Alternatively, there is the choice of a cashmere wool trim (I particularly like it). And, on the whole, the new 7 Series range is already manufactured using up to 50% recycled aluminium.

The forthcoming Gen 6 cylindrical cell batteries will be both more efficient and more cost effective
Dr. Joachim Post, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Purchasing and Supplier Network (BMW Hub), highlighted some of the further efforts that BMW is taking.

These include measures like the upcoming Gen 6 eDrive architecture, as part of the brand's forthcoming Neue Klasse models. It will feature cylindrical cell batteries, which offer better capacity but also lower costs (production cost is set to be 50% less). The brand also targets to increase the overall recycling ratio in its cars to up to 50%, up from the current 30%.

"We are in the transformation phase where these new technologies on our coming assistance systems, more digitalisation and what is coming to the whole fleet," says Dr. Post. "You could see costs starting to come down as economies of scale go up."

Beyond sustainable materials, Dr. Post also emphasised the need for good design that facilitates recycling further down the road
Further upstream, there is continued effort to reduce the carbon impact across the entire journey, as well as to tackle existing challenges when it comes to the supply chain. Pursuing a local-for-local strategy with suppliers helps to reduce transportation and logistics costs, while also creating a "more resilient supply chain to reduce the impact" disruptions of geopolitical impacts like lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine, says Dr. Post.

BMW also works with its suppliers to develop more sustainable processes, showing them the possibility of CO2 reduction, recycling quotas and avenues to procure recycled materials, and "support the supplier to get with us together on this track to sustainability."

Increasing sustainability throughout the manufacturing process is key to achieving the brand's set out goals
"Since 2014, we have in our contracts with our suppliers a clear requirement about social and environmental sustainability. Therefore, it's not important only when it's now on the agenda, but it has been very important for us since many years," Dr. Post adds.

This all works as part of what Dr. Post calls the brand's "circularity strategy - to think about technologies that need less raw materials, to increase recycling, and to have better design with disassembly in mind to facilitate the recycling of materials."


Don't let the sheer luxury of BMW's flagship models blind you from the important work that goes into making sustainability a priority
Perhaps a 7 customer won't see all this - they'd be too enamoured by the Theatre Screen or the sheer wealth of features and interior complexity that these cars now offer. And you can't really blame them. BMW's luxury models set out to impress, first and foremost.

But these important efforts, mostly taking place in the background and out of sight, are essential to ensuring that carmakers can continue to produce cars of quality that exceed what came before. It exemplifies the brand's roadmap towards sustainability - any flagship model should lead the way not just in features and quality, but also in sustainable production processes.

Yes, there is undoubtedly a certain circularity about car models, in the way they build upon the legacy of their forebears and continue to expound certain qualities over decades. But moving forward, it is also the pursuit of sustainable, circular production processes that will allow us to truly enjoy luxury far into the future.

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