Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

FRANKFURT – BMW AG unveils the Concept X6, a 4-door luxury cross/utility vehicle that emphasizes driving dynamics over utility but also highlights a potentially new chassis system and hybrid drivetrain from the German auto maker.

“This concept car shows what the future will bring,” Norbert Reithofer, BMW’s chairman of the board of management, says at the concept’s auto show premier here. “This BMW X model combines true BMW dynamics with world-class agility.”

While the sleekly stretched X6 is not easily confused with the more spacious people-hauling CUVs from U.S. auto makers – BMW characterizes the vehicle as a “sports activity coupe” – it likely surpasses rivals in driving pleasure, Reithofer says.

That’s because BMW leverages the same xDrive all-wheel-drive system that has made its X5 and X3 CUVs a success.

New on the X6 is BMW’s “dynamic performance control,” which combines with xDrive to optimize vehicle stability by distributing variable degrees of power to the rear wheels, regardless of speed or operating condition.

BMW considers the system an industry first, saying it is the only one of its kind to provide a stabilizing effect at any speed. “This is pure driving dynamics – an absolute trendsetter in the 4x4 segment,” Reithofer says.

The German auto maker promises to deliver a series model close to the X6 concept, with production alongside the X5 and X3 at BMW’s Spartanburg, SC, plant.

Reflecting the international auto show’s overriding “green” theme, the X6 also features BMW’s new hybrid-electric drivetrain for X-Series vehicles. Called ActiveHybrid, the system combines an internal combustion engine with two high-performance electric motors.

The auto maker says its new hybrid powertrain trims both emissions and fuel consumption 20%, compared with similar vehicles equipped with conventional drivetrains.

Reithofer says an X6 with the hybrid system will arrive in 2009.

ActiveHybrid additionally serves as the centerpiece of a larger developmental strategy BMW details at the motor show. The 3-step strategy, called “Efficient Dynamics,” seeks to provide environmentally friendly mobility, including zero-emissions hydrogen, the auto maker says.

Near-term strategy is to optimize BMW’s combustion engines, followed by a medium-term plan to electrify the drivetrain up to the development of a full hybrid. Finally, the strategy seeks to develop drivetrains that completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels.

For the last several months, BMW has been putting its hydrogen-compatible 7-Series sedans into the hands of both Europe and America’s high and mighty for real-world testing.

European celebrities have logged more than 1.3 million miles (2.1 million km) in the milestone car, which features a 6.0L 260-hp V-12 engine capable of burning gasoline and liquid hydrogen. The switch can be made with the push of a button.

The Hydrogen 7 can travel 124 miles (200 km) on hydrogen and another 311 miles (500 km) on gasoline. The auto maker has a hydrogen-only target of 311 miles (500 km). Under hydrogen power, estimates suggest the H7 can achieve 17-18 mpg (13.3-13.8 L/100 km).

Beginning this fall, BMW says it will introduce 22 models that, although they are not hydrogen-powered, leverage the auto maker’s efficient-dynamics principle, with a goal of selling 400,000 units by the end of the year.

Models include the BMW 318d, which customers began receiving two weeks ago, and the all-new 1-Series coupe scheduled for launch in Germany late next month.

Reithofer says the X6 hybrid, plus the auto maker’s efficient dynamics strategy, demonstrate BMW’s commitment to reducing emissions, despite recent claims to the contrary and implications the added research and development spending has hurt the company’s bottom line.

“The BMW Group will definitely meet its contribution to the ACEA voluntary commitment,” he says, referring to a pledge by European Automobile Manufacturers Assn. members to achieve an average emissions target of 140 g/km by next year.

“By the end of 2008, we will have cut the carbon dioxide emissions of our entire fleet by 25% from the 1995 level. To achieve this ambitious goal, we have to invest more than usual in research and development. And obviously, this is reflected in our results.”