DETROIT – In addition to rolling out the FlexRay communications protocol on the all-new ’07 BMW X5 cross/utility vehicle, BMW AG’s Josef Berwanger says the CUV soon will be followed by applications in vehicles in 2008 and 2010, as well.

The auto maker is starting out conservatively, but its vision is eventually to use the FlexRay standard as the backbone of the key electronic domains in the vehicle, Berwanger says in a presentation at the Convergence 2006 Transportation Electronics Conference here.

Originally designed to handle by-wire steering and braking systems and safety critical technologies, the protocol now is expected to eventually replace many of today’s CAN bus networks because the limitations of those architectures are expected to become unacceptable.

FlexRay-enabled systems are a key feature of General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet Sequel hydrogen fuel-cell concept vehicle, but BMW will be the first to introduce them on a production vehicle. The FlexRay protocol will be used to manage the air suspension system on the X5.

Berwanger says FlexRay will debut next on an ’08 vehicle that he declines to identify.

While its functions are superior, Berwanger acknowledges there are cost issues with FlexRay. The silicon, in particular, is more expensive than that for CAN.

Therefore, he says the business case for FlexRay has to be done on a system level that compares the functionality of FlexRay vs. CAN systems.

In this evaluation, the higher number of CAN networks, redundant sensors and other costly items help justify moving to FlexRay.

dwinter@wardsauto.com