When the BMW i3 was introduced at the International Auto Show in Germany in 2011, it stood the automobile industry on its ear. The Tesla Model S was not yet in production and the Nissan LEAF was just becoming available. Here was a 100% battery electric car with space age styling from one of the world’s premier manufacturers of prestige automobiles. It even had a range extender engine for those who worried about running out of range at a time when public charging stations were few and far between.
The i3 was a technological tour de force. Not only was it electric, but it was the first mass production car with a carbon fiber frame. Its controversial styling was something people either loved or hated, but there was no doubt is stood out from the crowd. Soon, it was joined by the luscious and lovely i8 sport coupe, complete with a high-output blend of electric and gasoline propulsion. BMW was the clear leader in the electric car field and then everything stopped.
The i3 and i8 limped along for years without significant updates. Finally, last year, BMW began offering the i3 with a larger battery for more range. The i8 gained a convertible version and a few custom colors. Sales of the i3 never really took off the way BMW supposedly hoped. All in all, it was too unconventional in styling and too expensive with not enough range. Today, BMW is trying to move some i3s off US dealer lots by offering $10,000 rebates through various utility companies.
If there is an i3 and an i8, doesn’t that mean the company plans to offer other cars to fill out the model lineup? Over the past few years, rumors have sprung up about an i5 being in the works, but whether it was a sedan, a sports car, an SUV, or a Hummer clone was never made clear. 18 months ago, our sister publication Gas2 reported the car would be called the i5 and be an SUV. Apparently, BMW management couldn’t decide and got sidetracked by efforts to re-engineer existing models with plug-in hybrid powertrains. The company says all its cars will be available with a plug by 2025.
Two years ago, BMW brought its Vision iNext concept to the auto show circuit to test public reaction to the car it thought would kick off its second century. That concept is being developed with Mobileye to be a fully autonomous car. Now BMW has announced at the Geneva Motor Show that the next car from its i division will be called the i4. According to Autocar, it will be based on the same chassis at the company’s 4 Series GT to save development and manufacturing costs.
Autocar speculates the i4 will use BMW’s 5th generation electric powertrain architecture and is expected to hit the market in 2020. Whether the electric motor will be in the front or rear is unclear at this time, although the company has told the magazine the i4 will have a range of more than 300 miles and performance equivalent to the 335d GT, a model not available in the US that has 350 horsepower on tap.
BMW is pushing ahead with electrification of its model line up. An all-electric MINI is due in 2019 and will use much of the technology found in the i3. An i5 sedan closer in size to the Vision iNext is expected in 2021. In all, BMW says it will offer 25 electrified models by 2025. It has copyrighted all model names from i1 to i9, although that is no guarantee they will actually offer that many models within the i division.
Editor comment: As one final note, the BMW i3 was actually the 3rd best selling plug-in vehicle in Europe in January, and BMW had more market share of plug-in vehicles than any other automaker in Europe (17%).
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