As part of our #EarthDayAtTech360, we checked out various technology and technology-enabled companies to highlight some incredible efforts that they have taken to show their commitment to sustainability and to protecting the environment. Earth Day started in 1970 and every year since, the world comes together to demonstrate support for environmental awareness and protection on April 22.

We’re kicking our week-long Earth Day coverage off with Steve Chan, Head of Government and External Affairs, Southeast Asia (ASEAN) for BMW, where we got an insight into the automotive group’s plans for sustainability, the future of EVs and more.

Steve Chan BMW
Credit: BMW Group

Q: Could you take us through some of BMW’s key efforts and plans for the near future in terms of sustainability and EVs?

The BMW Group has set course for the future and once again stepping up the pace of electromobility expansion significantly. By the end of 2021, we aim to have at least one million electrified vehicles on the roads. Every plant in Germany will produce fully electric cars in 2022. From 2023, the BMW Group will already have around a dozen all-electric models on the road, thanks to intelligent vehicle architectures and a highly flexible production network.

In addition to the BMW i3, MINI Cooper SE and BMW iX3, which are already on the market, the BMW i4 will be on the road this year. In the coming years, all-electric versions of the high-volume BMW 5 Series and the BMW X1 will follow. In addition, there is the BMW 7 Series as well as the successor to the MINI Countryman and other models.

By the end of 2025, the company will have delivered around two million all-electric vehicles to customers. Based on current market expectations, the company expects that by 2030 at least 50 per cent of its global sales will consist of all-electric vehicles.

The MINI brand will have an all-electric product portfolio from the beginning of the 2030s. On the emissions front, the BMW Group is setting itself clear targets for CO2 reduction up to 2030. For the first time, these extend throughout the entire lifecycle: from the supply chain through production to the end of the use phase. The aim is to significantly reduce CO2 emissions per vehicle by at least one third across the entire spectrum. As part of this plan, CO2 emissions will be reduced from vehicles by 80% (production and sites), 40% (use phase), and 20% (supply chain) by 2030.

bmw group model range
Credit: BMW Group

For a fleet of around 2.5 million vehicles, as produced by the BMW Group in 2019, this would correspond to a reduction of more than 40 million tonnes of CO2 over the lifecycle in 2030.

Sustainability isn’t just something we do at BMW – we are making BMW sustainable. At the same time, we promise to continue delivering highly innovative and emotional products and providing our customers with joyful and thrilling experiences as we’ve done for more than 100 years.

Q: Some of the new EVs from BMW are very exciting, like the iX and i4, and with 50% of all global deliveries expected to be EVs by 2030, it’s clear that BMW is pushing for electrification. Aside from that though, what else is BMW doing to “go green”?

Wherever possible, the BMW Group works directly with suppliers to ensure that raw materials are produced in adherence to the same environmental and social standards the Group sets for itself. The BMW Group Supplier Sustainability Standard, which requires compliance with internationally recognised human rights, as well as labour and social standards, forms the basis for this.

For example, to cater for the increase in global demand for lithium, the BMW Group will source for this element from a second leading supplier, US-based Livent. The value of the multi-year contract will total around 285 million euros. Livent will supply the lithium directly to the BMW Group’s battery cell manufacturers from 2022. In addition to Australian mines, the BMW Group is broadening its supplier base by sourcing lithium from Argentina, where the raw material is obtained from brine from salt lakes. Livent employs an innovative method, that emphasises sustainable water use and minimises the impact on local ecosystems and communities. The company will also contribute important data to the study of sustainable lithium mining initiated by the BMW Group.

The BMW Group has also launched an initiative to protect the deep seas in cooperation with WWF Germany. In a joint declaration, the BMW Group, WWF and companies from other industries undertake, as a precautionary measure, not to use deep-ocean minerals or finance deep-sea mining until comprehensive scientific research into the impact of deep-sea mining can be conducted and the consequences for the environment are clearly assessed.

In addition, the BMW Group is investing in an innovative method for CO2-free steel production developed by American startup Boston Metal, through its venture capital fund, BMW i Ventures. Over the coming years, Boston Metal plans to expand the new method for steel production on an industrial scale. The investment is part of the BMW Group’s far-reaching sustainability activities aimed at significantly reducing CO2 emissions across the supplier network.

Q: What do you think are some of the major challenges when it comes to EV adoption or trying to educate consumers about EVs?

The biggest bottlenecks for EV adoption are:

  • Easy access to a mature charging infrastructure
  • Availability of government incentives
  • Variety of electrified vehicles for every type of customer, at an affordable price.
2020 BMW iX3 Elektro X3
Credit: BMW Group

Owning an EV requires drivers to make minor tweaks to their lifestyles in order to manage ongoing range anxiety. For example, drivers have to charge their EV overnight (for cars without fast charging capabilities) before going to bed or plan their journey in advance to factor in a charging pit stop along the route. However, once the charging infrastructure has matured and is easily accessible, such fears will eventually dissipate.

Q: Which markets in Asia do BMW see as being key to its push for sustainability?

The BMW Group believes electrification is the future, but the journey to electrification is a marathon, not a sprint. Each market is different, and Southeast Asia is a great example of this.

Everyone says Singapore is the perfect market for electrified cars, and rightly so. The recent Budget 2021 announcement shows that we are heading in the right direction. We have had electric cars here in Singapore since 2014, and we are thrilled that a strong push for electromobility has finally begun.

BMW Thailand Battery Plant
Credit: BMW Group

Turning to our neighbours, most of our cars sold in Malaysia are electrified, while in Thailand, we have a battery production plant. These are positive signs that sustainability is being taken seriously with concrete plans already in motion.

Q: Is the uptake of EVs in the region better than, worse than or just as expected?

Regionally, we have been witnessing increased interest in EVs in recent years as more people become aware of its benefits, and become more familiar with the technology. The mass adoption of EVs is expected to take time as each market has its own unique challenges and customer requirements, but we are heartened to see more countries accelerating their electrification plans.

BMW iX3
Credit: BMW Group

Globally, vehicles of the BMW and MINI brands featuring electrified drive systems are now offered in 74 markets worldwide, where more than 500,000 electrified vehicles were sold by 2019. By the end of 2021, this figure will probably rise to over a million. In spite of pandemic-related restrictions, more vehicles from the BMW Group were sold during the first half of 2020 than in the corresponding previous-year period.

Q: Hydrogen cars seem to be cleaner and more efficient than electric cars, wouldn’t it be better to adopt hydrogen tech? Why or why not?

Until there is mass adoption of electrified vehicles, we do not foresee hydrogen fuel cell technology being adopted anytime soon. Just as you need charging stations for PHEVS and EVs, special fueling stations are also required for hydrogen-powered cars.

The technology for hydrogen fuel cells and vehicle drivetrains is still in the early stages and is not yet commercially viable for passenger cars. Green hydrogen is also not yet available in sufficient quantities and at competitive prices on a global level. Establishing a hydrogen station infrastructure will take more time. When the conditions are right, manufacturers will be able to offer hydrogen production vehicles to customers; however, the BMW Group foresees this to be in the second half of this decade.