Unnamed senior BMW officials have confirmed to The Detroit Bureau that the next BMW M3 will be a plug-in hybrid. That news has purists in a dither. The M3 has been BMW’s standout performance car for a generation, always featuring the most powerful gasoline engine the company was capable of building. In fact, there are rumors that minions at the factory were completely scandalized by the idea of shoving a plug-in hybrid powertrain into the mighty M3 and protested — loudly!
Of course, fans were outraged when Bob Dylan played an electric guitar on stage at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965. The boos nearly drowned out the music. Today, we wonder what all the fuss was about.
The new M3 powertrain is said to be based on the twin turbo, straight 6 engine that cranks out 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque in the present car. That engine feeds the rear wheels through either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. But BMW has learned a thing or two about hybrid electric powertrains with its i8 sports car. It will use those lessons learned to add around 73 more lb-ft of torque to the M3 while employing its newfound expertise in carbon fiber construction to keep the weight of the car down.
BMW is considered a leader in the development of carbon fiber for automotive applications. It has formed a partnership to turn a pilot plant in Washington State into the world’s largest source of the material.
The sources say that at least one and possibly two electric motors will be added to drive the front wheels. If two motors are used, that will enable torque vectoring to enhance the car’s cornering ability. The system under development is similar to the KERS, or Kinetic Energy Recovery System, technology that has been used in motor sports programs including Formula One.
“We have a lot to learn from BMW i,” a senior executive who has worked on both the battery brand and on BMW M, told The Detroit Bureau. He noted that, until recently, the maker saw the i8 as one of the company’s “bookends,” a counterpoint to BMW M. But now it is exploring ways to bring the two cars closer together.
The goal is to satisfy performance fans by adding more power while helping the M3 meet increasingly stringent emissions and fuel economy standards around the world. Some cities are discussing the possibility of banning the use of conventional gasoline power, but the next M3 would be able to sidestep such restrictions by switching to electric power for as much as 20 miles per charge. “We have to go that way,” confirmed Ludwig Willisch, the CEO of BMW of North America.
Asked when the new hybrid BMW M3 would come to market, a senior source laughed and said, “I can’t tell you everything.” BMW North America chief Willisch, however, noted that the current version of the iconic performance sedan was only launched in early 2014. At the maker’s normal pace, it wouldn’t be due for a complete makeover until around 2020.
The M3 faithful should have calmed down a bit by then. Meanwhile, electric revolutionaries are sure to call it vaporware.