Trendsetting: How the i3 and i8 Plug-in Cars Will Revolutionise BMW

Forgive us for saying so, but BMW isn’t the first automaker we think of when it comes to sustainable, green motoring, at least historically speaking. Even with its i-range of plug-in cars — the soon-to-launch i3 electric hatch and i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe — we hadn’t seen anything to indicate that BMW’s enviornmentally-concious plug-in family would impact a company known for large, powerful executive saloons, sporty coupes and luxurious SUVs.

Until now, that is.

The BMW i3 could help BMW revolutionise its entire car-design philosophy.

The BMW i3 could help BMW revolutionise its entire car-design philosophy.

According to Autocarsome of the construction techniques and ultra-lightweight construction materials used to give the i3 its impressive range, sporty feel and green credentials won’t just influence the way in which BMW designs and builds future additions to the i range: it will percolate throughout the BMW family.

Talking to Autocar, BMW’s head of sales and marketing, Ian Robertson, said the design and manufacturing processes used on the i3 and i8 are already influencing how the German automaker designs and builds its conventional gasoline cars. And while they don’t plug in just yet, the BMW range will become far more sustainable as a consequence.

“I am certain that many areas of the i car program will affect what we do elsewhere,” Robertson said. “Although we have deliberately given the i cars a new type of design, so that people are immediately aware they are something special; there are aspects that definitely hit the mainstream.”

Is the i3 the start of a new era of environmentally responsible production for BMW?

Is the i3 the start of a new era of environmentally responsible production for BMW?

After the electric drivetrain — which we think will take a while for BMW to make mainstream —  our thoughts turn to the carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) used to create the i3 and i8’s cabin. Lighter but stronger than traditional chassis-building materials like aluminium and steel, CFRP panels also require far less energy to produce, massively cutting carbon emissions at the factory where they are made. Moreover, as BMW has already illustrated, it’s far easier to offset the carbon footprint of CFRP panels than it is to offset the production and manufacture of steel panels, placing wind turbines at the facilities where the i3 and i8 body panels are made.

Environmental benefits of manufacture aside, the lighter, stronger CFRP construction of the i3 and i8 also make them more energy efficient, requiring less energy to push them through the air. In a similar way, using CFRP’s weight-saving benefits in traditional cars could help BMW meet ever-increasing emissions targets for its internal combustion-engined cars.

But, says Robertson, CFRP isn’t ready to be mainstream just yet. Instead, he suggests, “we will see its limited use where it can be of most benefit.” Or, in other words, we’ll soon start to see it being used on heavier body panels, like roofs, bonnets, doors, and boots.

More likely to have an impact on BMW’s mainstream lineup it seems, will be the materials used to furnish the cabins of the i3 and i8. Among them, hemp and recycled plastic bottles which, Robertson said, could easily become mainstream in the near future. Replacing traditional car finishing materials, recycled or organic components could not only lower the carbon footprint of future BMW cars, but also make them far more sustainable and recyclable at the end of their life.

Of course, none of these improvements to the way in which the rest of the BMW family is made will necessarily transform the brand’s identity to one of environmental responsibility overnight. Nor will it necessarily mean that plug-in cars will become part of BMW’s standard model range.

But, it’s a start. And from what we know of BMW — and the large numbers of reservations it already has for the i3  and i3 REX — its first production plug-in cars could have more of an impact on the BMW family than we first thought was ever possible.

Today, oil-dried Leather instead of industrially-dried leather. Tomorrow, plugs?

We live in hope — but are we right to do so? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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