There’s a big gap between 3 and 8. Make that i3 and i8, the two models that currently populate the BMW i battery-based sub-brand. But we’ll soon be seeing something help fill that open space, company officials confirmed during the opening news conference at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show.
The Bavarian automaker has joined what has become a stampede among automakers in recent weeks to announce grand electrification plans. BMW, in particular, now says it will have a hybrid, plug-in or full battery-electric version of essentially all of its models by the end of the next decades. At least 12 of those will be all electric.
BMW’s news conference was filled with different electrified models, including the updated i3 and a sportier version called the i3s, as well as concept version of the upcoming Mini Electric. Also making its debut was the BMW I Vision Dynamics Concept, an edgy prototype strongly influenced by the Vision 100 Concept created last year to mark the automakers centennial. But the newest show car, apparently, has a real future as the next BMW I model.
“I can guarantee you the BMW Vision Dynamics will go into production,” confided board member Klaus Frohlich.
(Live from Frankfurt! Click Here for complete coverage of the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show.)
For more details, it seems, we will have to wait. It’s not even clear if the next BMW i model will be dubbed an i5 or i6. But it is widely expected to be a pure battery-electric vehicle. The i3 is offered as both a BEV and as an extended-range electric vehicle, or E-REV. Similar to a plug-in hybrid, it can keep going when its batteries are discharged by tapping the power of a small gas engine, but that 3-cylinder package solely functions as a generator, providing no torque directly to the wheels. The current i7, meanwhile, is a multi-motor plug-in hybrid.
There’s no doubt that the production version of the Vision Dynamics Concept will be taking aim directly at Tesla. The Bavarians don’t hide their desire to knock the upstart California battery-carmaker down a peg.
How much of the extreme design the production version will retain from the Vision Dynamics Concept is far less clear, though the wild shapes used for the current models, especially the i8, suggest BMW might be giving us a very clear look at what is now under development.
(BMW Concept X7 provides a sharp counterpoint to the classic BMW 7-Series. Click Here to check it out.)
The most immediate, distinguishing feature is the silhouette of the classic BMW double-kidney grille on the concept vehicle’s nose. Step back and one recognizes that the concept has been carefully styled in the wind tunnel to maximize both performance and range. Even the door handles are flush and, like Tesla’s, pop out only when needed. Meanwhile, there’s a nearly all-glass roof and slit-like LED headlamps.
The automaker is talking around 375 miles of range per charge. That would be well above even the Tesla Model S p100D, with its 100 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion pack. However, that appears to be based on the European driving test cycle, and would come down to 300 or below using the U.S. EPA test.
As for performance, BMW is shooting for around four seconds, 0 to 60, a bit slow compared to the Model S number, about 2.3 seconds when equipped with optional Ludicrous Mode.
(BMW launching 12 all-electric models by 2025. Click Here for more.)
It’s no surprise BMW would go to extremes with the next i model. The sub-brand, according to Frohlich, “is the innovation driver for the BMW group.”
But can BMW translate innovation into a business case? In recent weeks, European automakers have announced plans to invest a collective figure in the range of $40 billion on their electrification efforts. But, until now, their existing battery models have been significant money losers. And, at some point, “they’re going to need to generate a significant return on this investment, said analyst Joe Phillippi,” of AutoTrends Consulting.
For his part, BMW’s global sales chief Ian Robertson declined to talk specifics about the profitability of future battery models, but he told TheDetroitBureau.com that, as sales volumes go up costs will come down. That would, one expects, translates into improve margins.
“The momentum is picking up,” Robertson said in an interview after the BMW news conference. It took three years for BMW to generate combined sales of 100,000 electrified models. Last year alone, it sold 62,000 and expects to finish 2017 at over 100,000.
That would still leave it chasing Tesla, at least if that carmaker hits its own target. With the launch of the new Model 3, it is expecting to sell about 500,000 pure battery-electric models in 2018.