BMW might be enjoying the combined success of its i3 electric city car and i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, but it isn’t about to expand its i-brand lineup with a third plug-in model any time soon.
Instead, it plans on spending the next five years working on the third i-brand model while providing incremental improvements to its existing i3 and i8 models.
That’s the official word from BMW Group head of research and development Klaus Froehlich, who told Automotive News Europe (via Autobloggreen) last week that BMW is just starting the process of researching and ‘brainstorming’ model ideas for the next car to wear the ‘i’ badge, with the aim of bringing said model to market some time after 2020.
Disputing claims from many different media outlets that BMW has already chosen a crossover-variant for its next i-branded plug-in, Froehlich said that the luxury automaker is far from committing to any one model or style at the moment.
“We’re still in the strategic research phase where we brainstorm,” he said. “Teams that start with a white sheet of paper. They talk with customers, hold workshops, then present their ideas and we decide.”
The vehicle, he indicated, would be designed in a similar fashion to the BMW i3 and i8: built from the ground-up as a brand-new model, with no repackaging or tie-over to existing BMW Group models. Like both of the existing i-branded models on sale, Froehlich said a third i-branded vehicle would be similarly cutting-edge, adding that for BMW, the i-brand is a place where it can introduce new and innovative technologies which eventually make their way into mainstream BMW models.
An example of this is the plug-in hybrid drivetrain developed for the BMW i8 sports car, which BMW will introduce to its mainstream brand next month with the official launch of the production-ready 2016 X5 xDrive 40e plug-in hybrid SUV at the Shanghai Auto Show.
Other high-volume models, such as the BMW 3-Series, will also get a BMW i8-derived plug-in hybrid drivetrain soon, offering BMW’s larger fanbase the opportunity to benefit from a plug-in hybrid drivetrain without transitioning to a quirky i-brand vehicle.
Despite confirming it won’t be expanding its i-brand range for at least five or six years however, Froehlich was eager to note that BMW won’t be allowing its i3 and i8 models to stagnate technologically in the interim.
Buoyed by larger-than expected first-year sales, the German automaker’s roadmap for both i3 and i8 models includes improving battery energy density by a minimum of 20 percent every three years. While a retrofit for existing owners is unlikely, Froehlich said that BMW would likely produce a range of models to suit all needs, focusing on more performance, more range, or a combination of the two.
“I don’t think a retrofit makes sense,” he said. “When better batteries are available, we could then offer [additional] models with a longer range or with the same range but a lower price.”
We also note that a pause in development of a third i-brand vehicle would also allow BMW to perfect some of the other technologies it has been working on for electric vehicles, including wireless charging technology and integrated multi-modal transportation solutions.
Do you think BMW is making the correct choice? Should it work on producing more i-branded vehicles in the short term, or is it better to work hard on improving the models it currently has?
And if you were offered a BMW i3 or i8 model with a larger battery pack, would you buy one?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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