BMW wants to use its increasing range of low-emissions vehicles to offset the CO2 output of upcoming high-performance models.

The car maker says high-performance, combustion-engined models will be produced for as long as customers demand them and says that adding more hybrid and plug-in models to the range will ensure its average CO2 output remains low in the future.

BMW sales and marketing boss Ian Robertson told Autocar at the New York motor show that the way CO2 output is currently restricted allows car makers to produce less efficient models, as long as there are low and zero-emissions models at the other end of the line-up.

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“Regulators across the world focus their efforts into restricting the average amount of CO2 a car maker’s line-up produces, rather than focusing on each model,” he said. “This means, in theory, we could build a car with a V12 at one end of the range and then essentially offset its higher CO2 output with a zero-emissions vehicle at the other end.”

Robertson explained that currently BMW’s range CO2 output averages 127g/km. “This is low in the industry, but we have a lot of work to do because the European limit of 95g/km applies from 2020.”

With less than four years to go until this new limit is enforced, Robertson acknowledges BMW will need to produce more low-emissions vehicles and says a plan is in place to continue growing its hybrid range.

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“At the moment, hybrids are our best solution, and in particular plug-in hybrids, because they pretty much offer all of the benefits without any of the negatives,” he explained.

When asked if technology from the car maker’s i division could be used in future M models, Robertson said it was something BMW was already thinking about. “Consumers want more performance and less CO2, so I think there’s a strong case for us introducing this technology into future performance models.”

There are no plans to join i and M models, however. Robertson said research had concluded that producing models like an i8M wouldn’t work. “We want to keep the two divisions separate for now," he said. "I don’t think it would benefit either side to mix them.”

BMW recently announced that it would be producing a new i model called the i NEXT in the following decade. Robertson declined to provide us with any more information, simply stating that “anything was possible” when we questioned whether it could be an all-electric SUV. “That project’s still in early stages of development,” he added.

With all of this in mind, it seems likely that BMW’s next-generation range will still include everything from all-electric i models to high-performance turbocharged M cars. But Robertson says such a line-up would depend on legislation staying the same.

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“There’s talk that the next EU target for CO2 output will be 75g/km, and then there’s the threat of legislators enforcing a limit on CO2 output for each model, rather than a range average,” he said. “There’s already been some movement to suggest this could happen in some parts of the world.”

If this model-by-model CO2 limit were to be enforced in major markets, BMW (and other mass-production car makers) would have no choice but to cease production of large engined models. This, however, won’t likely happen for a considerable amount of time.

Instead, industry experts predict that legislators will continue to lower the average CO2 output for manufacturers’ ranges, suggesting high-performance combustion engine models are safe for now.