BMW is experimenting with infrared heating systems for future cars, warming occupants in a more fuel-efficient and precise manner, and thus potentially extending the range of hybrids and EVs. The system, outlined during a BMW "innovation day," bypasses traditional warm-air vents in favor of infrared heating surfaces that warm passengers directly. There'd be no more sitting shivering until the car warmed up in the depths of winter, either, with BMW claiming that the system can have you toasty in just 60 seconds.
Traditional heating systems warm air, which is then blown into the cabin. BMW's new approach would be silent, with no fans required, and also use less power. Even if a car was still fitted with the existing style of HVAC system - a probability, since IR can't be used to cool the environment, and thus air-con would still be required - BMW suggests that the infrared tech could be an added extra, similar to heated seats, and allow passengers to more directly control their own comfort.
That too would have power advantages, with the car able to turn off heating to those parts of the vehicle unoccupied by passengers. So, the front seats could be heated if it's just two of you in the car, the back left cold, or alternatively the front passenger seat left cool while the driver and the kids in the back are kept comfortable.
For electric and hybrid vehicles, where minimizing electricity use is of particular importance since it has a direct impact on range, BMW's new system could be a significant boon. The company also suggests a heat pump could be implemented, using waste heat from the rest of the car. In fact, BMW claims, a heat pump-equipped EV could halve the electricity required for in-cabin heating, while overall range could be improved by up to 30-percent - even with the outside temperature at freezing point.
When, exactly, we might see infrared heating in cars turn up is unclear, though it's worth noting that BMW already offers some models with its "innovation" tech; the 7 series, for instance, uses the company's predictive driving system, using GPS maps to decide what gear the driver might require based on the upcoming road.