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BMW i shifting focus from electrification to autonomy

You’re next: Revealed at the Frankfurt motor show last year, the i Vision Dynamics concept provides a look at the autonomy-focused future direction of the BMW i sub-brand.

Autonomous cars, not EVs to carry on the BMW i sub-brand into the future

16 Feb 2018

THE medium-term future of the BMW i sub-brand has been assured with confirmation that it will shift its focus from EVs to autonomous cars, according to BMW Group Australia CEO Marc Werner.

Speaking to journalists at the i3s national media launch in Warrandyte, Victoria this week, Mr Werner revealed that BMW i would not cease to exist when electrification becomes the norm across BMW’s traditional model lines.

“We took the deliberate decision to launch the BMW i brand at the end of 2014, first with the i3 then with the i8, and that has been successful – definitely,” he said.

“From a pure image point of view, in particular, (BMW i helps) to showcase that BMW is the leader when it comes to this kind of technology. And going forward, BMW i will be the incubator for this kind of new technology.

“And when we showed the BMW i Vision as part of the Frankfurt motor show in September last year, we made it very clear that autonomous driving – which will be the next big thing – is definitely very closely related to the BMW i brand.”

The pure-electric i Vision Dynamics concept will enter production early next decade and sit between the i3 and i8 in the BMW i line-up, with it rumoured to adopt the i5 nameplate.

While BMW did not explicitly detail the i Vision Dynamics’ autonomous capabilities at its reveal, Mr Werner’s comments indicate that it will be more capable than the German car-maker’s current products.

Similarly, the iNext – which was announced in January last year – will launch in 2021 as a Level 3 autonomous vehicle, meaning will be capable of self-driving on highways with the driver required for abnormal conditions and urban areas.

The exact form of the iNext is yet to be confirmed, but rumours suggest it could be an SUV which would appeal to buyers as their preferences continue to shift away from traditional passenger cars.

Mr Werner added that BMW i’s role in introducing autonomous cars to market is an important part of BMW’s transition from an automotive brand to a technology company.

“(With) all the technology that we have in our vehicles now, in particular, driving is probably as safe as it can be and will only improve as we go forward with autonomous vehicles, and we believe we will make the next big step,” he said.

“But as we mentioned before, it’s a question of legislation. What happens in the case of an accident? Who’s at fault? And the whole discussion about insurance companies starts.

“It will still take time before we see actual autonomous vehicles on the road.

Or, having said that, from a pure technology perspective, the technology is already available.”

An example of such is the seventh-generation 5 Series – which has Level 2 autonomous driving capabilities – launched in March 2017 that has the ability to steer itself for up to 30 seconds at speeds up to 210km/h when lane markings are detected. Such technology has since made its way into the third-gen X3 launched in November last year.

Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars featuring full self-driving capabilities are edging closer, but are slowed by legislation adjustments, and development of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-cloud infrastructure.

While BMW i is loading up on autonomous technology, Mr Werner stated it is still making progress with its electrification programs, headlined by the next generation of batteries.

“The range is continuously increasing as the battery technology advances. And, as you might know now, with the i3 and the i3s we have considerably increased our driving range by 50 per cent, and that definitely will be the first step,” he said.

“We are already working on the next level of battery technology. And the ultimate goal is to go up to 500 to 600 kilometres of range, and that is happening. We are not talking about the next decade, you are talking about probably the next two or three years, and this is going to happen.

“BMW recently made an announcement that we are extensively investing in our own battery technology research, because we have identified that will be one of the key differentiators in going forward, and make sure that we maintain our technological leadership in that space.”

Ahead of the 2017 Frankfurt motor show, BMW revealed it will offer 25 electrified vehicles in its line-up by 2025 – including 12 full-electric vehicles – while the facelifted i3 range went on sale in local showrooms this week.

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