The German Opel engineer who held a pivotal role in developing the Chevrolet Volt and European market derivatives was recently hired away by BMW.

Frank Weber will likely be a strong asset to Bavarian Motor Works, which is developing a range of advanced-tech projects from an all-electric i3 to a plug-in hybrid i8, along with models in between and possibly even a range-extended platform.

Indeed BMW, which is known as a proud engineering firm, deviated from its institutional preference to promote from within by hiring Weber. According to Automotive News Europe, Weber will report to BMW’s head of research and development, Klaus Draeger.

Weber started with Opel in 1991 after completing his engineering studies at Darmstadt University and was given several leading roles at the technical development center in Ruesselsheim, including director of advanced concept engineering.

Weber is pictured a few years ago here with GM's pre-production Volt show car.

His involvement with the Volt began spring of 2007. He was initially hired as E-Flex/Volt VLE a couple months after the concept car was shown in January of that year. He went on to prove himself as GM’s global chief engineer over the Volt project.

For this assignment, Weber showed a deep-level grasp of the range-extended car, and helped expedite it from gleam-in-the-eye concept stage to the serial production car we have now.

In 2008, while the work was still in progress, Weber sat down with founder, Dr. Lyle Dennis, to offer his views in an interview that led off with the question: “What was GM’s motivation to build the Volt?”

“Societal challenge,” Weber said, “Look at the future. What you see is that not the industry nor any individual OEM can afford not to believe that this is [the] next big step, because it is the only technology currently available that can make a fundamental difference.”

Another of his quotes laden with visionary tones was, “Many of the things we are currently doing are very fundamental technical decisions that will guide this architecture for years and almost decades.”

GM-Volt's founder, Dr. Lyle Dennis, interviewed and featured Weber a few times when he was working on the Volt project.

It is sentences like these that indicate Weber had an encompassing mind’s eye view of the engineered possibilities for advanced technology.

After his work on the Volt project had largely been completed, in late 2009 Weber moved back to work as Opel’s head of corporate planning on Opel and Vauxhall projects.

Weber's hiring by BMW now makes him the second top-tier GM executive to recently jump ship with extensive knowledge of Opel’s future product plans. In October 2010, Volkswagen AG hired former Opel Managing Director Hans Demant to be its senior vice president in charge of international relations.

And while this is only conjecture, it would appear Weber’s thinking may already be making itself felt. It was only about a week ago that BMW announced it would consider a range-extended car.

In any event, Weber’s hiring surely demonstrates BMW’s strong desire to evolve from the maker of “Ultimate Driving Machines” to the maker of ultimate advanced-technology driving machines. Spy photos and videos have shown the company is very busy, as are its European competitors.

BMW did some work with a limited fleet of electric MiniEs, but these are not slated for mainstream production. The first BMW battery electric vehicles are estimated to be in production by 2013. Either the i3 BEV, or i8 plug-in hybrid, or both could be in production by then.

Opel has not yet announced Weber’s replacement.

Source: Automotive News Europe