FRANKFURT - BMW is quietly developing an all-new series of V-6 engines that would be offered to other carmakers.
The engines were originally planned as a replacement for the K-series V-6 used by the Rover Group. Now that BMW has sold Rover it is looking for other customers.
A BMW insider said the engines will range in displacement from 2.0-liters to more than 3.0-liters.
The German company had intended to update and extend the Rover passenger-car engine range and also give the Land Rover Freelander compact sport-utility a boost in power. The Freelander is now offered with 1.8-liter gasoline and 2.0-liter diesel engines.
Although BMW has sold Rover to the Phoenix Consortium, a group of British businessmen, it will continue to develop the V-6s. The company has already invested heavily in the project.
'We are beyond the point of no return,' said the BMW executive, who asked not to be named. 'As Rover's future became more uncertain, we started looking for outside customers. Without the safety net of having at least one more customer we would have had to pull the plug on development.'
The source would not identify BMW's V-6 customers. But speculation is that at least one is Ford, which is in the process of acquiring Land Rover.
'BMW will stick with the inline six-cylinder engine concept - at least for important model lines such as the 3 series and 5 series,' said Gerhard Schmidt, head of engine and drivetrain development at BMW.
'Our main asset is our inline six,' he said. 'We will definitely not give up on that unique selling point. The straight-six is part of our core brand values at BMW.'
But Schmidt said future BMW models could be equipped with V-6s. 'We are planning various completely new model families and we might need a V-6 in one of those,' he said.
There are technical difficulties in using a straight-six engine in a compact car, including limited engine-compartment space, he said. BMW's current engine range requires rear-wheel drive.
The new V-6 is also being designed for front-wheel drive. This configuration is still an option for the future compact BMW model - called the '2 series' by some industry observers.
'No decision has been made about front- or rear-wheel-drive for this car,' said Schmidt.
The V-6 engine range will serve as a base for future BMW V-8 and V-12 engines, Schmidt said.
The current V-12 - fitted in the 7 series as well the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph and the new Morgan Aero 8 - is based on two straight-six blocks. The V-8 is a shorter derivative of the V-12. Basing all future BMW V-engines on the new V-6 will offer major advantages in engine production and will result in significant cost savings.
No decision has been made on the production site for the V-6 and its derivatives, Schmidt said.
BMW engines are currently produced in Munich and in Steyr, Austria. But BMW's engine production will be reorganized early next year when its new engine plant, now under construction at Hams Hall, England, begins operating.