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BMW i3 and i8 future unclear

Charging ahead: BMW Group Australia’s only battery-electric vehicle (BEV), the i3, was facelifted five months ago after being introduced into the market in November 2014.

Electrification trickles to all future BMWs, may force i3 and i8 out

BMW logo30 Apr 2018

By DANIEL DeGASPERI in MAJORCA

BMW’s i Division has refused to commit to second generations of the i3 and i8, citing that electric vehicle technology has progressed far enough to become the ‘new normal’ and potentially no longer require stand-alone EVs.

In the time since the five-year-old i3 and four-year-old i8 were produced on carbon-fibre-intensive architectures designed to reduce mass before adding heavy batteries, BMW has since consolidated its platforms to just two – front-wheel drive UKL (lower class) and rear-wheel drive CLAR (Cluster Architecture) with each engineered for hybrid and electric applications (plus all-wheel drive).

When the next-generation 1 Series switches to UKL and the forthcoming 2 Series coupe/convertible, 3 Series, 4 Series and X5/X6 move to CLAR, every BMW will be able to be fully electrified – leaving i3 and i8 as expensive islands in the range.

Speaking with GoAuto at the international media launch of the i8 Roadster in Majorca, Spain, BMW i media relations manager Paloma Brunckhorst explained that the car-maker could not categorically confirm next generations of the i3 and i8 because what they pioneered had now become commonplace in the market.

“We don’t say that categorically, no,” Ms Brunckhorst said.

“It (i cars) can be (replaced), but it can also be BMW for example. The BMW i brand was very important in 2011 to bring the fields of autonomous, connectivity, electrification and shared services to the market. But it’s going to be the new normal.

“The electrification I think is going to be widened through the BMW brand as you can see with the i Performance models, also the iX3. So we have the ‘e’ (electric) is going to be the new normal, so the new innovation fields, for example the autonomous driving, is going to be innovated by an i model and it’s going to be the iNext.

“So let’s see which innovation fields we have for the next i class.”

As previously reported by GoAuto, BMW’s i Division will switch from a focus on electrification to autonomous driving in the future, with the 4 Series Gran Coupe- sized iNext flagship due in 2021. However, as with the more affordable i4 launching in the same year, it will be an EV only and based on the CLAR architecture.

Arriving one year earlier will be the just-launched, Chinese-built iX3 that Ms Brunckhorst confirmed is classified as a BMW i Division model despite sharing its design and CLAR architecture with the X3 SUV, as the name indicates.

UKL and CLAR all but spell the end for the unique carbon-fibre tubs of the i3 and i8, although Ms Brunckhorst said that a form of electrified city car and sportscar will both exist in the future. The inference is that they could be a Mini/1 Series EV and an 8 Series EV, respectively.

“The iNext is the first autonomous car, so it’s holding the banner (for BMW i Division future), and then we’ll see what happens with the i3 and the i8,” she continued.

“But it’s for sure that we will have an electrified sportscar in the brand and make a city vehicle also. But if they’re going to be BMWs or BMW i, or how they are named, we will see that. There’s still time for that.” The best chance for the i3 and i8 to live on will be in the form of reskinned second-generation models to amortise the exorbitant costs of developing carbon-fibre-intensive platforms that cannot be shared with other BMWs – a decision GoAuto understands is under discussion internally.

Either way, BMW i Division design specialist Robert Forrest told GoAuto that the i3 and i8 had always been seen as a stepping stone to introduce electrification to other mainstream models in the range.

“I think there’s a consolidation of i already happening with the high-performance brands,” he explained at the i8 Roadster launch.

“And now we have the equity in BMW i because of the i3, the i8 and the i8 Roadster, and this is equity that we can now spend on i Performance where we actually bring this technology behind and plug-in hybrid technology to, for example, the 2 Series Active Tourer. (Or) the unveiling of the iX3. So this is a thread that we are absolutely standing behind, and continuing to push.

“I think that i is always going to be dedicated to electrification, but as electrification becomes more widely accepted then of course it’s not just about i in terms of electricity, but also in terms of innovation. And there’s no end of innovation, so there’ll always be relevance for the brand.”

In terms of design, however, where the i3 and i8 were seen as bold, the iX3 could be seen as simply pilfering heavily off the regular X3. But Mr Forrest believed “that the i brand is very much providing appropriate cars for the context.

“(But) it’s always tricky to try and define a successor to an icon. Because part of being an icon is uniqueness. With the i3 and the i8, no matter what happens next, they will be stand-alone icons that actually wave the flag with following the Efficient Dynamics concept in the most plausible way to combine eco-minded credentials with driving dynamics, that at that time did not exist.

“When that concept cars first came out, the Toyota Prius was dominant in the headlines. Everyone was thinking that we’d be driving a C-segment hybrid, which had people, particularly BMW, which was very much driver focused, questioning ‘how can we recognise this trend but really take ownership of it?’ “The context hasn’t changed. There’s an element, particularly with the i3, of it being problem solving. To look to the future, there are umpteen new questions, new trends, new antagonising characteristics that will need to be considered in the future so there will always be relevance for the i brand to tackle these.”

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