THE FUTURE OF COMPOSITES

'Composites are winning materials in lightweight electric car construction'

Interview with Massimiliano Di Silvestre, President and CEO of BMW Italy

 by NICOLA CATENARO

Massimiliano Di Silvestre, BMW Italy donated a BMW i3 to the Pope a few months ago. What is the significance of this gesture?
"The gift of a BMW i3 to the Holy Father is intended to testify to the BMW Group's commitment to sustainability and its closeness to the values expressed by the Pontiff in his encyclical "Laudato si '", relating to the protection of the "common home", our planet. The BMW i3 was the first fully electric model in series production for the BMW Group, which made its debut in 2013 and gave birth to the “BMW i” brand. With this highly innovative vehicle, our company wanted to affirm its holistic and circular approach to sustainability. The BMW i3, still on sale today after more than 200,000 units have already been delivered to customers all over the world, is a fully electric car at the forefront in terms of environmental impact, both from the point of view of the use of clean energy during the production in the Leipzig plant and of responsible use of resources, up to recycling at the end of their life cycle. That first model paved the way that the Group then followed with the subsequent electric models, an offensive that will lead the BMW Group to have a line up of 25 electric models in 2023, 13 of which are purely electric".

How is the Italian market reacting to the challenge of electrification in comparison with other European countries?
"At the moment, the Italian market is suffering from a delay in the adoption of electric mobility compared to other countries, both in terms of advanced electric cars and charging infrastructure. In our country, registrations of electric cars represent a marginal part of the total, however it should be emphasized the growth rate that record zero emissions cars is currently higher than the European average and promises, if maintained over time, to reach significant quotas. We, in the first 11 months of 2021, have more than doubled the number of electrified cars for Italian customers. In this way it will be possible to achieve the objectives set by the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan, starting from 6 million electric cars in the fleet by 2030. In this context, car manufacturers are doing their part with an increasingly wide range of models. The BMW Group, for example, will have at least one zero-emission model by 2023 in virtually all segments in which it is present with its offer with the BMW and MINI brands".

What else will you leverage to win this challenge?
"The other key factor for the electric car market to develop is the development on the territory of the necessary infrastructures, that is the recharging points. Also in this case, Italy reports high growth rates but a lower total absolute value in comparison with European countries. In general, with 2.7 columns per 100 km, compared to 4.7 of the European average, Italy is in 14th place in the ranking of the continent. We have ample room for growth. And we have to grow up fast. We are confident that the PNRR presented by the government, which provides for the construction of 7,500 fast charging points on the motorway and over 13,000 in urban centers, will be rapidly implemented, in order to favor the creation of infrastructures on both the motorway and urban networks throughout the country. For our part, we are stepping up our efforts to contribute to the improvement of the charging infrastructure - both at our locations and in close cooperation with our business partners. In line with this approach, the BMW Group has installed more than 15,000 charging points worldwide, including more than 4,350 charging points at its locations, all powered exclusively by green electricity. In Italy, by the end of this year, all our dealers will add new fast charging points to the current supply of columns. As for our headquarters in San Donato Milanese, it is already structured with over 60 charging points for our collaborators and our customers".

The car of the future, in addition to being sustainable, what other characteristics should it have?
"The BMW Group at the IAA, the Mobility Show that took place in Munich last September, presented the BMW i Vision Circular, a compact for the year 2040 directly focused on sustainability and luxury. It is an electrically powered car that offers a generous amount of interior space, designed from "a to z" according to the principles of the circular economy and hence the BMW Group's ambitious plan to become the most sustainable manufacturer in the individual premium mobility sector. The design goal of the BMW i Vision Circular was to create a car that was optimized for closed material cycles and achieved 100% recycled or 100% recyclable materials. For this it uses certified and bio-based raw materials and materials that have already passed through a product life cycle (the so-called secondary materials). The same goes for the energy storage system: the solid-state battery of the BMW i Vision Circular is 100% recyclable and almost entirely made from recycled materials. At the same time, it will achieve a significantly higher energy density with less use of resources. All keeping the promise of luxury and the typical driving dynamics of the BMW brand, which can be found in all future, starting from the segment and the type of propulsion to start over. For us, in fact, there can be no premium without sustainability".

Electric cars must also overcome the challenge of lightness. Do you think that composite materials could help to overcome this challenge?
"For electric cars, the aerodynamic and lightness characteristics become fundamental, allowing the most efficient use of the energy stored in the batteries. Weight management is essential for the impact it has on the range and driving behavior of an electric car and the use of composite materials certainly plays an important role in this area. The BMW i3 led the way not only in electric propulsion but also in lightweight construction, having been the company's first vehicle with a passenger cell made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP). The "Life" module of the car intended to house the passenger compartment is made of CFRP and is part of a specific vehicle architecture for BMW i, designed from the outset for electric mobility. The material originates in our Leipzig plant from carbon fiber tapes and is assembled in a unique process developed by the BMW Group. The experience gained with the BMW i3 has led to the use of these materials and related construction technologies on various BMW Group models. For example, in the new BMW iX, the full electric technological flagship debuting on the market these days, the use of CFRP for the roof and in the side and rear parts of the chassis in an intelligent mix of materials, has the effect of increasing stiffness and at the same time minimizes weight, to combine superb driving comfort with sporty handling characteristics".

WHO IS 

Massimiliano Di Silvestre, 50, married with two children, has been President and CEO of BMW Italia Spa since 1 August 2019. Graduated in Economics and Commerce from the University of Bologna, he has been working for the BMW Group since 2001 (with an interval from 2009 to 2012 where he gained significant professional experience in other automotive companies) holding different positions including Regional Director of the Sales Division of the Italian branch, CEO of BMW Rome and Country Manager Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Managing Director of BMW Group Hungary.

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