• BMW i3 Teardown: An Electronics Masterpiece

  • BMW i3 Teardown

    Posted: October 9, 2015

    TechInsights analysis shows the BMW i3 contains nearly $4,000 in electronics, far surpassing the industry standard in its design.

    TechInsights teardown team worked with Munro & Associates on a self-funded project to take a deeper look into the design and technology used by BMW in its first mass market electric car. The BMW i3 retails for approximately $46,000 (with range extending engine) and was designed to bring the efficiency of an electric vehicle to buyers looking for urban daily driver. Like the General Motors with its Chevrolet Volt (see Volt Teardown Reports listed below), BMW is working to ensure its line-up of cars provides a transition point for buyers looking at electric vehicles. While the BMW i3 looks nothing like its renowned 3-Series of cars, nor any other of its line-ups for that matter, the BMW i3 does take on a very sturdy look and feel while bringing together a wide range of premium accoutrement and technology know how that one expects of a premium German designed car.

    In our teardown and analysis of the electronics in the BMW i3 we looked at 83 system boards and electronic components that control everything from the battery system to the infotainment devices. We inspected the cameras, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), even door locks to understand the design choices, the semiconductor manufactures which were chosen, and apply our costing methodology to ascertain key information into the final build costs of the BMW i3. Meanwhile, our partner Munro & Associates looked at the extensive use of carbon fiber, the battery technology, interior materials, and in-depth at the processing and manufacturing time and effort for the mechanical components of the car. We believe this provides the most complete 3rd party analysis and costing of the build, design, and analysis of a mass market electronic vehicle to ever be completed. Even with all the advanced materials and electronics used in the BMW i3, based on the research by Munro & Assoc. and Teardown.com we are feel BMW has made a profit off of each of the i3s has sold.

    BMW i3 Electronics

    Once we completed our analysis of the electronics we were pleasantly surprised that our estimated bill of materials for the electronics alone is equal to almost 13% of the total cost to manufacture the car itself. Over 70% of the electronics costs were from components in the battery and infotainment portions of the car. Our analysis identifies design wins and semiconductor chips from industry leaders like Qualcomm, NXP, Freescale, Texas Instruments, Renesas, NVidia, Micron, On semiconductor, Intel, and Xilinx.

    In our research, we looked at over 80 boards, these have been categorized into the following sections:

    1. Battery and Inverter (20+ circuit boards)
    2. Body Control (~5 circuit boards)
    3. Driver Support (~10 circuit boards)

    1. Drivetrain (10+ circuit boards)
    2. Infotainment (20+ circuit boards)
    3. Lighting (10+ circuit boards)

    Semiconductor winners in the BMW i3

    As part of our teardown we looked closely at the semiconductor manufacturers who have design wins in the BMW i3. Some of the vendors with notable presence include Freescale, ST Microelectronics, Infineon, Texas Instruments, Renesas, NXP Semiconductor, Fujitsu, Intel, Bosch Semiconductor, NVIDIA, Micron, and Qualcomm. The figure below illustrates the proportion leading integrated circuit manufactures have associated with each BMW i3 manufactured. It should be noted that with NXP in the midst of acquiring Freescale that combining these two vendors that they’d account for 78 chips and over 17% of the total bill of material costs associated with semiconductors identified in the BMW i3.

    Teardown Exmaple: BMW i3 Digital Radio

    The following looks at some of the teardown insights we gained from our analysis of the BMW i3 Infotainment system. Each report comes with disassembly photos, board shots, PCB cross sections, package and integrated circuit (die photo) identification, block diagrams, electronics and materials costing, and more.

    The image below offers an exploded view of the radio module in the BMW i3. This Harman radio is very similar to similar units we have recently torn down in the BMW 3-series of cars.

    The HBB125 is the digital radio module included in models of the BMW i3. Along with the ubiquitous AM / FM radio, the HBB125 adds a 200 GB hard drive and Sirius / XM radio. Connectivity is provided via GPS, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g and Bluetooth 3.0, with CAN and USB 2.0 protocols also present in this device, but not user accessible. At its core are three different processors: Intel E660T "Atom" processor, Texas Instruments Jacinto Automotive Applications processor and Nvidia GeForce 8 (G-98) Graphics processor. In addition, over 9.8 GB of system memory has been implemented in the form of SDRAM, Flash and EEPROM from companies that include Micron, Spansion, STMicroelectronics, Microchip, Atmel and ISSI.

    The use of HDD over an SSD is notable, and likely one aspect we think will change soon. You can also see three boards that make up this unit. One board is the Sirius radio board and is shown in more detail in the following image. We have also looked at the memory, processors and other integrated circuits in this design in significant detail, an x-ray of Micron's memory module is also included below.

    Exploded View of BMW i3 Digital Radio Module Exploded View of BMW i3 Digital Radio Module

    The image below shows one of the three boards we analyzed as part of the Harman radio module. Notable chips were identified and decapped from STMico, Spansion, and Texas Instruments.

    BMW i3 Mainboard of the Sirius Satellite Radio system A close up view of the BMW i3 Mainboard of the Sirius Satellite Radio system, found within the Digital Radio Module

    We find x-rays allows for an in-depth review of the technology and design used by leading semiconductor firms. In this case we are able to see both a top down and side view that shows how bonding wires were attached to layer the memory modules within the package.

    Xray view of Micron NAND Flash memory Xray view of Micron NAND Flash memory in the BMW i3 Digital Radio Module


    We continue to expect to companies like Toyota, Honda, Ford, Audi, General Motors, and Mercedes to bring more choice in terms of electric vehicles to market. Based on our assessment of the design and fit and finish of the BMW i3 they will have a steep hill to climb to meet the engineering excellence that was uncovered in the BMW i3. From an electronics perspective we expect to see most major semiconductor firms to further increase their range of parts that are certified to meet the robust and resilient requirements of the auto industry. With the advent of TFT displays, always connected infotainment systems, and active advanced driving assistance systems, it is our belief that electric cars will continue to set the benchmark in electronics for quite some time. These cars, like BMW’s i3, will be test beds for the latest systems that will quickly trickle down and across a automotive manufacturers line up.

    Tier 1 suppliers to the auto industry should also take note. As companies like Denzo, Magna, Harman, Delphi and more need to review their own supply chains to ensure they are designing components relevant to the industries new needs. While BMW was willing to invest at a rate much higher than the industry norm when it came to the costs of the electronics, we expect that as more of the latest technology is incorporated that a balance will need to be struck to bring the latest features in to meet both user and regulatory requirements.

    As part of our research, we also produced a complete System Block Diagram of the BMW i3.

    Exterior System Block Diagram Exterior System Block Diagram


    A full list of reports on the BMW i3 can be found here. In addition, TechInsights offers analysis into system and circuit design win and costing analysis for all the BMW parts we have analyzed. Vendors interested in die photos, component block diagrams, PCB cross sections and more can also contact us for more information.

    We expect to compare the electronics in the BMW i3 with the much anticipated Tesla '3' and provide a cost and technology benchmark of German versus American engineering.

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