01. June 2017
“The quality of life in cities will increase dramatically”
Peter Schwarzenbauer, a member of the board at BMW Group who is, among other things, responsible for Digital Business Innovation, explains new urban mobility concepts in a discussion with the editor-in-chief of the Die Welt newspaper, Ulf Poschardt. He sees no alternative to electric vehicles in the long run.
Peter Schwarzenbauer brought an excellent example with him. A member of the board who is responsible for digital business innovation at the BMW Group (among other things), he said that the joy of driving vanishes during a drive from Berlin Tegel Airport to the center of Berlin. “You are stuck in a traffic jam the whole way.” Nevertheless, the automotive manager sees the traffic congestion problem in large cities as a challenge: to develop mobility concepts which suit urban traffic needs. He presented solutions within the framework of the dialog series of the “Mobility of Tomorrow” initiative. At the beginning of the event, Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), emphasized that the mobility of tomorrow already exists in many cities. “It’s about improving parking, traffic safety, and traffic flow.”
Like other manufacturers, the BMW Group is working on a number of these issues. For instance, it is developing car-sharing programs and apps which find parking spaces, as well as pedestrian protection and traffic light assistance systems. But these are just pieces of a bigger puzzle. “Anyone who thinks they can tackle the traffic challenges of the future alone is entirely mistaken”, said Schwarzenbauer. For this reason, the Munich-based manufacturer has forged alliances with other automobile manufacturers: together with Daimler and Audi, BMW bought the powerful Nokia Here mapping service because precision navigation down to a millimeter will be critical for automated driving in the future. BMW wants to promote the development of charging stations for electric vehicles on European highways alongside Ford, Daimler, and the VW Group brands. “We have no competition between manufacturers in these areas,” said Schwarzenbauer.
Innovative services for drivers are among the new mobility concepts. Schwarzenbauer announced one of these new services at the event: BMW CarData. Insurance companies will be able to offer drivers customized policies more easily utilizing data obtained from their BMW, while the mechanic at the garage can remind them about the next inspection. Transmission of the required telematics data to secure BMW servers is encrypted using a built-in SIM card in the vehicle.
The automobile manufacturers are in the midst of a comprehensive transformation process, and must therefore develop new business models. Schwarzenbauer intentionally exaggerated when speaking of a “fight for survival” for the German automotive industry. On the one hand, it faces new competition from Silicon Valley; on the other, OEMs are being affected by political uncertainties such as the upcoming Brexit and the protectionist economic policies of US president Donald Trump. “We are still working using 10-year plans”, Schwarzenbauer said, “but we cannot really rely on these anymore.” A new field of competition is primarily about being flexible and learning fast, and of course about which providers can do these things best: the hardware companies developing software, or the software companies manufacturing hardware. BMW has already learned this lesson: last year, the Bavarian group hired more IT specialists than it did mechanical engineers. Tech companies are also beginning to realize “that a car is more complex than a smartphone”, Schwarzenbauer said. He has no doubt that the expertise of automobile manufacturers will be needed in the future as well: “People want to be mobile; this is true around the world.”
Automated driving will also become reality soon. Schwarzenbauer estimates that robot cars will be on German roads from 2021 on, first on highways and then in cities that permit fully autonomous driving. According to him, this scenario offers many advantages, especially in the urban environment. “We will not need traffic signs anymore. Fewer parking spaces will be necessary. Noise levels will go down, and safety and the quality of life will improve.”
For Schwarzenbauer, automated driving is inextricably linked to electric vehicles. “There will be no alternative to electric mobility in cities.” He sees BMW as already being in the second phase of this drive technology, after the introduction of the i3 electric car in 2013. Schwarzenbauer considers the charging infrastructure and the range to be the greatest challenges on the way toward more acceptance of the technology. At least he can speak of high customer loyalty. According to a survey conducted by BMW, 94 percent of those who have driven electric vehicles do not want to do without them in the future.
Schwarzenbauer had yet another bit of good news: in three to four years, electric vehicles will have a far greater range than the roughly 200 kilometers common today. This is already technically possible , but only with riskier chemical treatment of the battery. That is out of the question for BMW. As Peter Schwarzenbauer says: “We are intentionally taking a conservative approach and putting full emphasis on safety.”