BMW secret concepts: 25 Years of BMW Technik GmbH

Automotive Design 2 Apr 2010
BMW secret concepts: 25 Years of BMW Technik GmbH

The story of the BMW experimental vehicles from the 1980s to the early 2000s – including some concept cars kept secret until today. Details and photos were released by BMW to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its (Forschung und) Technik GmbH research division.

BMW Z1 Coupé Concept (1988)

The plastic model of the BMW Z1 coupé is being presented in broad public for the first time to celebrate the landmark anniversary of BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH.

1988 BMW Z1 Coupe Concept 1988 BMW Z1 Coupe Concept 1988 BMW Z1 Coupe Concept

The original research project – that was ultimately to bring forth the creation of the BMW Z1 – included fundamental research in the areas of bodywork construction, materials and development processes.

1988 BMW Z1 Coupe Concept 1988 BMW Z1 Coupe Concept 1988 BMW Z1 Coupe Concept

Right from the outset, this included pushing out the envelope and applying the newly created methods to several vehicle concepts. The BMW Z1 became a runaway hit with the public as a fascinating roadster, and it had the potential for being joined by other model versions using this approach. Plans included a coupé and a four-wheel drive version of the BMW Z1.

1988 BMW Z1 Coupe ConceptThe prerequisites for this kind of diversification were engineered into the design of the floor pan, and chassis. And a design was actually created for a BMW Z1 coupé that is virtually unknown in the public arena to the present day.

This design demonstrates the potential of a unique platform strategy for roadsters and closed coupés. Benchmarks were defined in the course of this project – designated internally as the BMW Z2 – that included key components with the capability for use in several vehicle concepts.

These knowledge assets constituted the platform for innovative development processes that were subsequently incorporated in new BMW models and permitted exceptionally efficient diversification of the model profile. However, the so-called “off-roadster” was to remain a study in wood, clay and plastic resembling the styling incorporated in the Z1, and the concept was not taken any further.

While the BMW Z1 coupé never succeeded in getting on the road, the innovative platform strategy was used for the first time only a few years later during the development of a series vehicle.

In 1995, BMW presented the BMW Z3 roadster. The two-seater immediately captured the public imagination as a puristically open symbol of sheer driving pleasure. By contrast, the potential for an expansion of the model range was not, however, obvious at first glance. The concept was realised in 1998 when the BMW Z3 coupé was launched in the marketplace.

This flexibility gained in the development of additional versions was also deployed for the successor model. The BMW Z4 made its debut as a roadster in 2002, and it was joined by the BMW Z4 coupé four years later.

BMW Z1 (1988-1990)

1988 BMW ZThe engineers working for the think tank first established as BMW Technik GmbH created a sensation with their first development. They pooled their ideas for a completely new vehicle concept in a two-seater roadster.

During this process, they developed a type of car that had virtually been forgotten in the mid-1980s. The first project was therefore already a perfect example of the very special approach being taken by the company.

The highlights of the BMW Z1 went far beyond the body design that was received with such rapturous acclaim by the public and the 125 kW/170 hp six-cylinder in-line engine that served as the power unit.

1988 BMW ZDevelopment of
this open sports car started in the second half of 1985, and ultimately this car was planned as a pilot project for innovative vehicle structures, the manufacture and application of new materials, and the optimisation of development processes.

The structure of the BMW Z1 comprises a monocoque-type steel chassis with a bonded plastic floor.

The car’s bodywork is made of special elastic plastics that are not sensitive to damage. New thermoplastic materials and sandwich components were used.

The comparatively high side sills provide a degree of protection for the passengers that had not previously been achieved in a roadster. The powered vertical sliding doors were the eye- catching visual highlight of the design.

Engineers developed a completely new suspension for the rear-powered wheels in order to ensure that the BMW Z1 with its top speed of 225 km/h also qualified with flying colours in the discipline of future-proof driving pleasure.

1988 BMW ZThe so-called centrally spherical double wishbone system used for the rear axle formed the basis for the handling of the roadster, which resembled the performance of a go-kart.

This design was later to form one of the key factors in the agile handling experienced in the mid-range models of BMW, when it became the Z-axle in the BMW 3 Series.

The team at BMW Technik GmbH also achieved the aim of cutting down development times from a standing start.

Series production of the vehicle was launched three years after the start of the project. The BMW Z1 has achieved legendary status and was received with open arms by the highly sophisticated roadster fans.

In the period between 1988 and 1990, 8 000 vehicles were built. Even today, the BMW Z1 is a model for aficionados – even though the concept was originally not intended for series production.

BMW E1 (1991)

BMW E1 ConceptThe Z at the start of the project name continued to form a characteristic feature of all the concept vehicles developed by BMW Technik GmbH during the subsequent years.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the nomenclature of had already got as far as number 11.

The fact that the prototype designated internally as the BMW Z11 was ultimately launched in the public domain as the BMW E1 bore testimony to its revolutionary power unit.

The BMW E1 presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1991 had an electric motor mounted in the rear.

The development goal of this project was to carry out research into the advantages and disadvantages of a car propelled entirely by electric motive power when subject to the practical test of everyday conditions on the road.

BMW E1 ConceptBMW E1 Concept Cutaway

The BMW E1 was also intended to represent a standalone, efficient automobile that was designed according to all the defining principles of driving pleasure while making no compromises with respect to functionality.

1991 BMW E1 Concept 1991 BMW E1 Concept 1991 BMW E1 Concept Cutaway

Today, the BMW E1 is regarded as the launch pad for holistic development of electro-mobility concepts in the BMW Group. A number of electric vehicles had already been developed on the basis of conventional series models from the start of the 1970s onwards. These vehicles had yielded fundamental insights into the areas of power-unit and energy-storage technology. The BMW E1 was the result of the first vehicle concept based on electro-mobility.

BMW E1 Concept CutawayThe electric motor of the BMW E1 packs 37 kW with power being transferred to the rear axle. The innovative extruded aluminium construction and plastic body produced an exceptionally lightweight city car with a top speed of
120 km/h and a range of 200 kilometres.

The BMW E1 was a prototype that was fully roadworthy with the capability to be used in everyday traffic conditions. The performance and practical qualities of the vehicle with its aerodynamically pioneering design were immediately given a seal of approval by the test drivers at the time.

High-grade materials and the quality of finish so typical of BMW definitively set the BMW E1 apart from the few other electric vehicles.

BMW E1 ConceptAirbags for driver and passenger set a new benchmark for protection of the occupants.

The trade magazine “Auto Bild” designated the 2+2-seater that generated zero emissions when driving as “the most advanced car of the century”. And the readers’ choice in car magazine “Auto Zeitung” voted the BMW E1 as the winner in the category “Environment and Technology”.

In the BMW E1, sodium-sulphur batteries are mounted under the rear seat and adequately protected in the event of a crash. A conventional domestic power socket is all that’s necessary to recharge the power supply.

The BMW Z15 designed as a successor and the slightly bigger BMW E2 based on that platform are powered by a sodium nickel-chloride battery.

BMW E1 ConceptBMW E1 Concept

The basic conclusion from this development series established in the early 1990s was that vehicles powered with electric drive are technically feasible, but the technology for storing electric energy needs more work and sets practical limits for use. This has provided a technological basis for the MINI E and the BMW Concept ActiveE.

BMW Z13 Concept (1994)

1994 BMW Z13 ConceptIn 1993, the engineers at BMW Technik GmbH were given a new and exciting mission: the search was on for a contemporary compact vehicle with mould-breaking active and passive safety, enhanced comfort, impressive performance, and realistic economic and environmental credentials.

The brief also included driving pleasure and understated elegance to embody the inimitable values of the brand. The specialists developed the BMW Z13 on the basis of this specification.

The fully functional prototype combines the advantages of a comfortable touring saloon with the dimensions of a compact car. The engineers involved in this project took an exceptionally unusual route to achieve their goal.

1994 BMW Z13 ConceptThe BMW Z13 was given the title of Personal Car and designed principally as a single seater.

The driver’s seat positioned in the middle allows all the control elements to be positioned with ergonomic perfection, while also offering advantages if the car is involved in a side crash and when entering and leaving the vehicle parked at the kerbside.

The left-hand or right-hand door can be used to match the particular traffic situation.

The variable baggage space is located directly behind the driver’s seat, and it can even accommodate skis up to two metres in length.

Alternatively, two additional seats can be folded down, which are positioned obliquely behind the driver’s seat.

This unconventional configuration offers unparalleled legroom with an enhanced level of comfort for passengers seated in the rear of the car.

The supporting structure of the BMW Z13 consists of a lightweight chassis made from aluminium extrusions (space frame). The 60 kW/82 hp petrol engine is rear mounted. The low vehicle weight of only 830 kilograms contributed towards achieving average fuel-efficiency values between five and six litres for every 100 kilometres travelled.

The highly unusual vehicle concept is packaged in an extravagant design that outperformed the conventional benchmarks for an automobile at that time. Moreover, the BMW Z13 gave a very concrete perspective onto the future of mobile communications. A satellite navigation system was installed on the instrument panel alongside a telephone and fax.

BMW Z18 Concept (1995)

In 1995 the BMW Z18 concept vehicle went down in history as the first off-road roadster developed by BMW. This was a period when the desire for versatile mobility under the open skies and the yearning to explore off-road terrain had triggered a boom in the segment of Enduro motorcycles.

1995 BMW Z18 Concept 1995 BMW Z18 Concept 1995 BMW Z18 Concept

BMW Technik GmbH took the initiative and transferred this expression of sheer driving pleasure to an automobile concept. The BMW Z18 crossed category boundaries by
combining the feelings of a convertible with the robustness and versatility of an off-road vehicle.

An eight-cylinder engine packing 260 kW/355 hp powered the roadworthy prototype, while a four-wheel drive designed with technical complexity provided the necessary off-road capability.

The plastic body was mounted on a frame structure made from steel extrusions and was not dissimilar to a boat – the BMW Z18 was able to drive effortlessly through flat stretches of water.

The variable interior concept – configurations as two-seater, four-seater and pick-up were engineered into the design – made the unusual concept vehicle a true multi-tasker from several points of view.

The BMW Z18 was premiered on the public stage five years after it had been created.

BMW Z21 "Just 4/2" Concept

Another prototype offering the prospect of driving fun that had previously been confined to the realms of the motorcycle captivated the driving public at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1995.

1995 BMW Z21 Just 4 2 Concept 1995 BMW Z21 Just 4 2 Concept 1995 BMW Z21 Just 4 2 ConceptThe BMW Z21 project launched in the same year saw engineers at BMW Technik GmbH transferring their focus from off-road capability to enhanced driving pleasure on metalled roads. The result was a minimalist two-seater that left its engineering delights exposed to public view and truly lived up to the formulation of “Just 4/2” enshrined in its name.

1995 BMW Z21 Just 4 2 Concept 1995 BMW Z21 Just 4 2 Concept 1995 BMW Z21 Just 4 2 Concept Only rudimentary vestiges of bodywork can be seen in the BMW Just 4/2, and the wheels are freestanding to emulate a formula racing car. The four- cylinder power unit generating 73 kW/100 hp loaned from the BMW K 1100 model was more than a match for the prototype weighing only 550 kilograms.

The two-seater accelerated from a standing start to 100 km/h in around 6 seconds and notched up a top speed of 180 km/h. Specially developed clothing and helmets provided enhanced protection for the occupants alongside airbags for driver and passenger, and side-impact protection, to transform the Z21 project into a complete work of art at the premiere in Tokyo.

BMW Z22 Concept (1999)

1999 BMW Z22 ConceptThe BMW Z22 study was presented in 1999, and featured more than 70 innovations and 61 registered inventions in areas ranging across body concept, lightweight construction, power unit, safety, mechanical systems and controls.

The use of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic in an innovative processing procedure permitted compliance with the highest crash safety standards while at the same time significantly reducing weight.

Power steering, an electromechanical braking system, cameras instead of wing and rear mirrors, and a cockpit design reduced to the bare essentials defined the mould-breaking, future-proof character of the BMW Z22.

1999 BMW Z22 Concept1999 BMW Z22 Concept 1999 BMW Z22 Concept

Adaptive headlights, Head-up Display and central control unit enabled the prototype to offer innovative functions that were soon implemented further down the line in BMW series vehicles.

BMW Z29 Concept (2001)

2001 BMW Z29 ConceptOptimization of the vehicle weight by deploying the most advanced high-tech materials was the focus of development for the BMW Z29 concept study.

The prototype of a two-seater sports car was completed by BMW Technik GmbH in 2001 and represents the culmination of cooperation with another subsidiary of the BMW Group – BMW M GmbH.

The vehicle exerts fascinating appeal with flowing lines and lambo-style doors. The principles underlying the outstanding potential of the BMW Z29 for dynamic driving can be found under the engine bonnet and below the surface of the paintwork.

The power was generated by the in-line six-cylinder engine of the BMW M3 – at that time a technological benchmark – and the passenger cell was manufactured from carbon-fibre reinforced plastic while the rear axle, and front and rear module were designed in aluminium.

2001 BMW Z29 Concept 2001 BMW Z29 Concept2001 BMW Z29 ConceptThe most important results of this combination: a weight-to-power ratio of 3.4 kg/hp and an
acceleration ratio of 4.4 seconds for the sprint from a standing start to 100 km/h.

BMW H2R Concept (2004)

The BMW H2R hydrogen record vehicle was powered by a twelve-cylinder engine .


In September 2004 it set up nine international records for hydrogen- powered vehicles with a piston engine at the BMW test track in Miramas, France. The car achieved a top speed of more than 300 km/h.

BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH

The subsidiary company was founded as BMW Technik GmbH in 1985. The main focus of activities in the early years was defined as the development and construction of concept vehicles.

The minutes of the Executive Board meeting in January 1985 clearly set out the mission of the fledgling company: “The recently founded company BMW Technik GmbH has the mission to develop innovative, future-oriented and original overall vehicle concepts and sub-concepts away from the constraints of a specific series workflow schedule. However, the objective should always be to develop solutions that have the potential for series development.” The initial aim was to work on projects under the working title “Auto 2000” and “Local Vehicle”.

When the company was rebranded in 2003 as BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH to reflect both research and technology, the focus was shifted to developing technology that encompassed all types of BMW vehicle.

The workforce currently has a headcount of around 200 at the Munich site, and BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH has extensive expertise in the areas of vehicle engineering, hydrogen technologies, alternative drive and energy management concepts, active safety and driver assistance systems, as well as information and communication technologies in the vehicle. The research and technology centre also maintains centres in the USA: the Technology Office Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, California, and the Liaison Office Clemson, South Carolina. They enjoy a close relationship with universities such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as research institutes and high-tech companies in other sectors. The aim is to harness innovative trends and technologies for deployment in the automobile sector.

There is also an extensive exchange of ideas with universities and research institutes at German and European level. Participation in the Eurécom European communication network – based at the Sophia Antipolis high-tech centre in southern France – ensures that the research subsidiary of the BMW Group has access to leading-edge information and telecommunication technologies. In addition, BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH has a base at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence and drives forward the automation of intelligent behaviour and hence the “Automobile of the Future”.

The Munich Center of Automotive Research (CAR@TUM) established as a joint venture with Munich Technical University gives the subsidiary of the BMW Group permanent access to high-flying young academics with great potential for the future and it also ensures access to important results derived from ground-breaking scientific research.

BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH also works on state-financed research projects at national and international level together with other automobile manufacturers and suppliers in order to create industry-wide standards, ultimately for the benefit of all customers. One of the latest examples of this work are the field trials for vehicle-to-vehicle communication in the project entitled “Safe mobility – Test bed Germany”, abbreviated to simTD.

(Source: BMW)


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