What is the greatest car engine of all time

Actually, there are worlds that lie between these two men. Here the BMW board chairman Harald Krüger, head of one of the most famous car manufacturers in the world, manager of well over 100,000 employees. On the other hand: Jack Cheng, co-founder of the company Nio, a Chinese-run electric car start-up whose cars have so far only caused a sensation as prototypes.

But the discussion between the two car managers at the economic summit of Süddeutsche Zeitung should be a conversation at eye level. No wonder: the times when the big car manufacturers were able to smile at the small start-ups with their electric cars are finally history. The BMW boss knows that too. "The auto industry," says Krüger, "is facing the greatest upheaval of all time".

BMW was once ahead of many of its competitors when it came to electrical technology. When the Munich-based company launched the i3 electric car in 2013 and the i8, a sports car with a plug-in hybrid drive, a year later, most of the competitors had their plans in the drawers or started developing zero-emission vehicles. Many smiled at BMW for the advance - and should be proved right. The production costs for the elaborately designed e-cars were high, and demand remained low. So far, the electronics division has been a subsidy business for BMW, and the Munich-based company has since pinched off new electricity models. Only from 2019 to 2021 will new all-electric cars come from the group with the electric mini, an X3 with an electric motor and the i5.

The upheaval that Kruger speaks of was therefore initiated by others in the past. It is companies like the Californian manufacturer Tesla that have recently accelerated the transition to electromobility. Nio is said to have similar ambitions as Elon Musk's company. Some already refer to the Chinese as the "Tesla hunters".

For the first time, Nio made headlines in the spring of 2017. The company set a new lap record for electric cars on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife with its 1,360-horsepower EP9 racing car. While the sports car is only to be produced in marginal numbers, Nio is already aiming for other sizes of other vehicle types. A new model is slated to hit the market every year, says Cheng. Around half a million cars are to be built in the next three to four years.

The plans sound ambitious, especially when you consider the problems that competitor Tesla is currently having in increasing its quantities. Problems that Nio could still face. At least the Chinese already have financially strong donors, including the tech company Tencent and the cell phone manufacturer Xiaomi. The Chinese billionaire William Li is also considered to be the driving force behind the project. While the money for the Nio vehicles comes primarily from the Far East, Nio is also getting its know-how from other regions. Nio's design department, for example, is located in Munich-Bogenhausen, just around the corner from BMW. Some former BMW people also work in management and in the development department.

Krüger keeps a close eye on the new competitors. But his company has clear advantages, says the BMW boss. You are not only investing in electric cars, but also in other future technologies such as autonomous or networked driving. Much more important is another area in which his company is ahead: BMW, says Krüger, is an automobile manufacturer "with a brand, a history, a legacy". Things that cannot be invented as quickly as an electric speedster.