Not so long ago, the notion of luxury German brand BMW hiring an engineer from General Motors might have been a stretch. The company prefers to promote engineers from within its Munich engineering headquarters.

But reports that Frank Weber, the lead engineer of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt team, has been hired by BMW demonstrate how radically times have changed.

BMW was arguably the automaker of scale least knowledgeable about electric cars as recently as five years ago. Its first attempt at gathering real-world data, several hundred Mini E electric conversions, was not particularly pleasant as electric cars go.

2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011

2011 Chevrolet Volt drive test, March 2011

It will soon release several hundred BMW ActiveE electric conversions of the 1-Series sedan. Then in 2014, it will launch both the carbon-fiber BMW i3 (nee BMW MegaCity Vehicle) urban electric car and the i8 plug-in hybrid performance car.

What better way to ensure that the introduction of your first electric-drive products come off smoothly than to hire the man who made the Volt the car it is today?

The Volt has, thus far, been a success for General Motors. It's the first electric vehicle built by the company since the late, lamented EV1 two-seat electric car, and the Volt has garnered both massive publicity and intense public interest.

Moreover, as a range-extended electric car (or 'series hybrid'), the Volt offers many lessons for BMW into how to use a combustion engine to generate electricity on which to power a vehicle whose wheels are turned solely by one or more electric motors.

BMW prototype based on Vision EfficientDynamics concept

BMW prototype based on Vision EfficientDynamics concept

The i8 fits this mold. Its prototype--the Vision EfficientDynamics concept unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show--used a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbodiesel engine to power a generator once its 10.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack was depleted.

Sound familiar, Volt fans?

Weber ("VAY-ber") himself is both an automotive engineer and a trained classical concert pianist. He had left the Volt team late in 2009 and returned to his native Germany to run all of product development for GM's European brand Opel.

He will report directly to BMW's chief of research and development, Klaus Draeger, giving Weber effective management of all BMW activities in electric drive. The appointment will likely be announced officially this week.

[Automotive News (subscription required)]


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