Visio.M: BMW and Daimler team up to build a better electric car

TUM MUTE front three-quarter viewElectric vehicles (EVs) are really shaking up the automotive industry, and not just because of their zero-emission propulsion. These cars are also setting new trends in the business of automobile manufacturing: a new EV is just as likely to come from a small startup as it is from an established multinational conglomerate. One EV, the Visio.M is even being developed by two rival car companies. The result could be a cheaper, more efficient EV.

BMW and Daimler (parent company of Mercedes-Benz) are like the German equivalent of Ford and Chevy. Their cars may be a bit fancier than an F-150 or Silverado, but the two German companies compete just as fiercely, matching each other model-for-model while trying to gain dominance in the luxury car market.

Given that rivalry, seems unlikely that BMW and Daimler would collaborate on an EV, since working alone could give each company a competitive advantage. In fact, both companies have been working on their own EV projects. BMW recently launched a fleet of ActiveE and MiniE test cars to get real-world data on electric powertrain usage. Daimler is currently leasing electric Smart Fortwos to customers.

Regardless, BMW and Daimler are taking their EV efforts in a new direction, with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) acting as the catalyst. TUM started the Visio.M project, which will hopefully create an electric car that is smaller and cheaper than the EVs currently on the market.

According to BMW, current EVs are too heavy because they are based on petrol-powered models. In contrast, the Visio.M will have a curb weight (without batteries) of 882 pounds; batteries will push that number over 1,000 lbs. Compare that to the two smallest EVs currently on sale. The Smart Fortwo weighs 2,150 lbs, and the Mitsubishi i weighs 2,600 lbs. The most popular EV, the Nissan Leaf, weighs 3,350 lbs.

A low curb weight is important, because it will limit the amount of energy needed to move the car. That means the Visio.M will be able to travel farther on each charge than other EVs.

The Visio.M will be powered by a 15 kW electric motor. Other than that, little is known about this potentially revolutionary EV. Since it hasn’t been built yet, the Visio.M could take on any body shape. However, if TUM and company stick with their cheap-and-cheerful design brief, it will probably have simple styling like TUM’s MUTE prototype (pictured). The Visio.M will be a functional car, not a fashion accessory.

Since the Visio.M is just a research project, no one is talking about on-sale dates. The German Federal Ministry for Education and Research is investing over $14 million into the project, so hopefully it will yield some useful new technology. A low-cost EV that isn’t a death trap could open zero-emission motoring to a larger segment of the population. Could this be the beginning of a social revolution for EVs?