BMW's Vision for Fast, Green Cars is Shared by Other High-End Automakers

Last Updated Nov 12, 2010 6:26 PM EST

BMW is working on that vision thing. In fact, it's going to build the Vision EfficientDynamics, the production version of a radically designed, very slippery 63-mpg diesel plug-in hybrid it debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show last year. In less electrifying times, the Vision would never reach production, but BMW (and many other luxury and high-performance carmakers) are plunging into EVs in 2011 and beyond. High-end green is a proven seller, but the volumes aren't likely to be great -- especially at the very high prices automakers are asking.

There's no date on the Vision vehicle yet, but BMW spokesman Tom Plucinsky said it's headed for the world market, including the U.S., in the wake of the company's ActiveE battery car (based on the 1-Series) in 2011 and the MegaCity Vehicle in 2013. The price tag is reported to be $140,000 or more.

The 2+2 Vision is a wild departure for BMW, not only very green (with a target of 99 grams per kilometer of carbon dioxide emissions) but also probably the company's boldest design study in recent years. BMW's electrification chief in the U.S., Rich Steinberg, says the company sees "a lot of potential" in the combination of high-end performance, groundbreaking design and good environmental numbers.

Although some of this may get toned down in production, it has upswinging doors that look like bat wings when open, and a glassed-in roof. The rear wheels stand proud of the bodywork, giving it a crouching look. Here's how it looks on video:
Plus, it's really fast, with zero to 62 miles per hour coming up in just 4.8 seconds. The three-cylinder turbodiesel and electric components work together to produce 328 horsepower. Part of the reason for that is the very aerodynamic 0.22 coefficient of drag.

Plucinsky said the Vision is designed to have roughly the performance of the current road rocket M3, plus 6-Series-level interior space and under-100 grams per mile of CO2, which is important to meet European Union targets.

The Vision is a cake-and-eat-it-too kind of car, green but definitely an "ultimate driving machine." Who wouldn't want one? The car aligns with a current trend among high-end automakers to go green. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley and other makers of exotic models are starting to respond to wealthy customers who want more torque with less guilt."

Earlier this month Ferrari launched a green version of the California with the HELE start-stop system, which cuts CO2 emissions by as much as 23 percent (and is a $1,000 option. Also on tap is a Bentley Continental GT Coupe with an emissions-saving V-8 in place of the standard 12-cylinder. Bentley is also adding ethanol capability.

Porsche is planning to produce the 78-mpg 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid by 2013, which will be considerably upscale from the BMW Vision -- price estimates are over $600,000.

There is a market for upscale green. Tesla has sold 1,300 of its $109,000 electric Roadsters. But Tesla's Roadster sales might have reached a plateau, and it's a therefore a good thing that it's putting all its resources into getting out its more affordable second model, the Model S sedan. When the recession happened, it was BMW's top-of-the-line 7-Series that took the hit first.

But BMW has the lower end of the green market covered, too. At the Los Angeles Auto Show next week, it will be talking about its electric Mini E program, now in its second year, with a series of workshops. There will be new details about the coming ActiveE and the urban commuter MegaCity car, too.

According to Plucinsky, the 6-Series coupe concept and the second-generation X3 (now produced in South Carolina) will make their U.S. premiere in Los Angeles, and there will be a first look at the 6-series convertible. BMW is going green with the bases convered.

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Photo: Flickr/Daily Matador