Are dedicated electric platforms a mistake?

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Dedicated electric platforms or multi-propulsion ones? Which solution is technically and financially better?

The transition to the electric era has led to different strategies by manufacturers. Some have chosen the radical solution of developing dedicated electric platforms. Others have been more cautious and developed electric propulsion on existing conventional platforms, being able to adjust their production of different types of propulsion more easily according to demand.

CFRP was initially o solution to reduce weight and to improve range

In the pioneering era of electric propulsion, BMW took a risk and built a dedicated electric platform for the i3. From estimated costs of 1.5 billion euros, BMW ultimately spent 6 billion euros on the i3 and i8, and although it sold 250,000 i3s, it was not a commercial success.In the early days of the electric era, when batteries had small capacities and the amount of energy stored was small, BMW innovated with CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic) bodywork, which was very expensive, to make the car lighter and improve the range. Later, when battery performance improved, it became clear that CFRP was not necessary.

A record Cx does not bring a clear advantage but affect the access to the rear in the EQS

Mercedes tried to do the same and launched in 2021 the dedicated EVA electric platform for EQE and EQS, which is a failure, although Mercedes-Benz does not admit that. Mercedes opted for a dedicated platform to achieve record Cx. The German automaker managed to achieve its goal with a Cx of 0.20 for the EQS, but that didn’t help much. With a similarly large battery, the new BMW i7, built on a conventional platform, has no less electric range and similar energy consumption. Mercedes EQS has a slight advantage only at high speed. In addition, the aerodynamic shape affected rear access, which is a big problem for the EQS. The cost of investing in the dedicated electric platform has led to cost reductions, as the interior materials are not of the same quality as the S-Class. In addition, 400V technology is outdated in the luxury class.

BMW optimized costs with multipropulsion platforms 

After the less than happy financial experience with the i3/i8, BMW opted in 2020 for multi-drive platforms, launching electric versions on conventional architectures: iX1, Mini Countryman E/SE, Mini Cooper E/SE on UKLII, and iX3, i4, i5 and i7 on CLAR architecture.Only the iX has made a special appearance, but this is not a 100% electric platform, with the front and rear axles coming from the X5. But in the iX’s body, BMW has benefited from its experience in CFRP machining, with some of the iX’s body components made from CFRP.

Sales of BMW’s electric models are going very well, but with the prospect of a European ban on the internal combustion engine from 2035, BMW has decided to return to the strategy of developing a dedicated electric platform.

This time, the Bavarians stopped using expensive body materials and developed six models based on the new Neue Klasse architecture to make scale economies. The first will debut an SUV successor to the iX3, followed by a 3-Series-sized sedan. But in parallel, BMW will continue to develop conventional models on the CLAR architecture.

The same strategy is being followed by Audi. Audi’s first electric model was the e-tron, which became the Q8 e-tron after the facelift, and it is based on conventional MLB (Modular Longitudinal Matrix) architecture. Two years ago, Audi decided to develop a dedicated electric platform, together with Porsche. It’s called PPE (Premium Platform Electric), runs on 800V technology, and is used in the new Audi Q6 e-tron and Porsche Macan EV. The Audi A6 e-tron and A6 e-tron Avant will follow on the same platform.

At the same time, the conventionally powered A6 will have a successor and will be called A7. It will be built on the PPC (Premium Platform Combustion) platform, which is the current MLB platform on which the electronic architecture of the PPE platform is grafted. This means that in the upcoming A7, you will see the same multimedia system, digital instrument cluster, and head-up display as in the Q6 e-tron. Further down the range, Audi has had some help from VW’s concern, and the Audi Q4 e-tron is based on VW’s MEB platform. In the future, there will also be an electric Audi A3 on the same platform, which will probably be called the A2, as Audi electric models have even-numbered names.

Mercedes will play two cards in the future 

And Mercedes? Mercedes is being cautious and will play on two fronts. Later this year, we’ll see the new electric Mercedes CLA built on the MMA (Mercedes Modular Architecture) multi-drive platform that succeeds the MFA II.
This platform has been developed primarily for electric propulsion but can also accommodate conventional engines and PHEV systems. This solution means that there will be a new CLA with a combustion engine and PHEV. There will be four models: CLA, CLA Shooting Brake, GLA, and GLB with electric and conventional propulsion, and the electric models will no longer be called EQA or EQB but simply GLA EV or GLB EV.

For rear-wheel drive models, Mercedes will use two platforms: the conventionally powered MRA II for the future C-Class and S-Class generations and the new MB.EA Medium electric architecture for the future C-Class EV and GLC EV.

Due to poor sales, Mercedes has stopped the development of the Large version of the MB.EA platform, which was planned for the next generation EQE and EQS. Sources say that the EQE will not have a successor and that the future EQS will be based on the current EVA II platform upgraded to 800V. For AMG models, Mercedes has developed a separate AMG.EA electric platform that will underpin the successor to the AMG GT 4-door coupe due in 2025 and an AMG electric SUV. On the occasion of the platform realignment, Mercedes announced that the target of selling 50% of production with electric drive has been postponed by five years, from 2025 to 2030, so Mercedes will continue to sell purely electric models after 2025 and models built on multi-drive platforms. BMW will do the same as the BMW i7 will be on offer until 2029. On the other hand, Audi won’t have any electric models built on conventional platforms after the Q8 e-tron lifecycle reaches the end, all based on VW’s MEB platform or PPE’s own.

Conclusion

It’s complicated to conclude. At least so far, BMW’s multi-drive platform solution seems the winner. BMW has been able to adjust its production of powertrain types according to demand, and using conventional platforms, has been able to offer more attractive prices than Mercedes for electric models because it has not had to invest in new platforms.

Unlike start-ups like Tesla, for example, traditional manufacturers could not start from a blank sheet of paper and had to develop electric models using existing plants, that were projected for conventional propulsion. Also, incumbent manufacturers had to invest not only in something new, in addition to the classic models but also had to move into the new era without stopping the production of current models.

For the future, with the prospect of the demise of combustion engines, the dedicated electric platform solution seems the best way forward, and it seems that here, too, BMW has sensed the right moment and will switch to 100% Neue Klasse electric architecture in 2025.