50 years of electromobility: pioneer and driver of innovation.
Electromobility 10.08.2022 8 Min.
50 years of electromobility: pioneer and driver of innovation.

The visionary history of electric BMW vehicles begins with two cars at the 1972 Olympic Games. They are the prelude to groundbreaking research and development.

The BMW Group sets impressive standards with its electric vehicles. The company already offers ten models in six model series. It is the broadest offering amongst premium manufacturers. In the first half of 2022, the company more than doubled its sales of all-electric vehicles compared with the same period last year. Fifty years ago, this record seemed like a vague vision of the future: passenger cars going all-electric as standard? That was hard to imagine.

Nevertheless, the BMW Group took the courageous step in 1972 and, in retrospect, proved to be a pioneer once again. At the Olympic Games in Munich, two converted BMW 1602 vehicles were used by the organizing committee as support and camera cars in various long-distance competitions. This marked the beginning of a pioneering, forward-looking development that continues in current all-electric models from the BMW Group such as the bestsellers BMW iX3 and Mini Cooper SE or, for example, the four-door Gran Coupé i4 and the premium SAV iX. With the Neue Klasse, which will be produced starting in 2025, the transformation to electric vehicles will pick up speed yet again.

The BMW 1602 stands for pioneering spirit.

Initial research started as early as 1969, when BMW built two test vehicles based on the BMW 02 series to test electric drives. These are two models that marked the beginning of a path that the company has followed consistently, innovatively and confidently to this day. The BMW 1602 Electric reaches a speed of 100 km/h, and its maximum range of around 60 kilometers is still low by today's standards, however it reflected a pioneering spirit that is still present in the company today. Following its use at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, the BMW Group successfully sets various research and development projects in motion in aspiration to bring ever better and more efficient electric drives to the road. 

50 Jahre Elektromobilität bei der BMW Group


A striking advancement is marked by June 1975 regarding the BMW LS Electric. Within 14 hours, the vehicle can be charged at a conventional household socket. Between 1987 and 1990, eight BMW 325iX vehicles converted from all-wheel drive to front-wheel drive serve as test vehicles for a novel and maintenance-free sodium-sulfur battery with three times the energy density of conventional lead batteries; another advance without which the BMW Group's current technological leadership would be unthinkable. Debuting at the 1991 International Motor Show, the BMW E1 is an all-electric city car for four people plus luggage, with compact dimensions, everyday driving performance and a then remarkable range of up to 160 kilometers in city traffic. With its then groundbreaking technology, the company anticipated innovations in modern all-electric vehicles: The battery is located under the rear seats, and the electric motor including transmission is integrated into the rear axle. The BMW E1 can be recharged in six hours from a power socket, while the charging process takes just two hours at a special charging station.

In the early 1990s, BMW continued to develop electric drive technology towards series production. Based on the third generation of the BMW 3 Series, 25 test vehicles are built in which new components are tested and optimized. Eight vehicles from Project 25 are used between 1992 and 1996: The world's largest public research project to date takes place on the island of Rugen in Germany to test different engines, transmissions and batteries under everyday conditions. The trial delivers large amounts of data and important findings for the further development of electromobility by the BMW Group.

The results are just as highly interesting for other BMW Group brands. With the MINI E, a fleet of more than 600 vehicles for private use hit the road for the first time in 2008. Customers could charge the batteries in two and a half hours via a wallbox. The pilot project and the knowledge gained from it were essential for the first electrically powered series-produced BMW vehicle. 

50 Jahre Elektromobilität bei der BMW Group


The BMW i3 and i8 - ahead of their time.

A first harbinger can already be seen in 2010 with the world premiere of the BMW Concept ActiveE. The all-electric model is based on the BMW 1 Series Coupé and marks the beginning of a new era for the BMW Group: Two years later, the company announces that it will launch its electric cars under the BMW i sub-brand. The first production model is the BMW i3, a vehicle for which there are not enough superlatives: Innovation driver, impetus generator and pioneer for locally emission-free driving are just some of the attributes of the all-electric model.

With its market launch in 2013, the BMW i3 is unique on the car market. Electric mobility is still in its infancy, but the BMW Group is already confidently forging ahead. Developed from the outset exclusively as an electric car, the BMW i3 impresses with its unique vehicle architecture consisting of an aluminum chassis and a passenger cell made of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP). The i3 quickly becomes a huge success. By the time production ends in 2022, it has sold more than 250,000 units. It is the world's most successful electric vehicle in the compact car segment. 

50 Jahre Elektromobilität bei der BMW Group


Electric offensive with the innovative technology leaders i4 and iX.

In parallel with the BMW i3, the BMW Group is developing the BMW i8, the first plug-in hybrid model. The sports car lays the foundation for what is now a broad range of plug-in hybrid models. As early as 2017, the company is selling more electrified vehicles than any other established premium supplier.

And the BMW Group is constantly developing its electric vehicles. In 2018, the fourth generation of the BMW eDrive will be launched, enabling even greater efficiency and range. This will be followed in 2020 by the BMW iX3, the first all-electric X model that combines locally emission-free driving pleasure with typical BMW sportiness; it is comfortable and spacious like the successful X3 model. The all-electric SAV BMW iX3 pioneers the fifth generation of BMW eDrive technology, which achieves major advances in power density, range, weight, installation space requirements and flexibility over the BMW i3.

The redesigned engine also powers the BMW i4; an all-electric four-door Gran Coupe launching in 2021 that is the perfect blend of sportiness, long-distance comfort and sustainable performance. In the same year, the BMW Group will amaze with the BMW iX: an all-electric premium SAV that combines luxury and performance with the advanced technology in driver assistance, operation, connectivity and digital services. 

Fabian Kirchbauer Photography 
BMW i4


Combining know-how and a 360° sustainability approach.

With its electric vehicles, the BMW Group is also showing itself to be visionary in other respects. The BMW Group's 360° sustainability approach not only covers the entire value chain from raw material extraction to production and recycling, but also sustainability with its ecological, economic and social aspects. The responsible use of resources and the reduction of the CO2 footprint shape the company's forward-looking understanding of premium mobility. The supply of cobalt and lithium required for the high-voltage batteries comes from controlled sources in Australia and Morocco. The way the electric motors are designed, the use of rare earth metals can be dispensed with.

Latest by 2050, the BMW Group aims to become completely climate-neutral across the entire value chain. A development that hardly anyone would have thought possible 50 years ago. Back then, when the first electric BMW 1602 vehicles drove on the streets of Munich at the 1972 Summer Olympics.


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