BMW has begun releasing details about the i4 sedan it intends to bring to market in 2021. According to CNET Road Show, the new car will come with an 80 kWh battery capable of pushing it to 100 km/h (62 miles per hour) in 4 seconds. Dual motors with a total of 530 horsepower will provide the motive force, but what is even more impressive than winning the stoplight grand prix during the morning commute is a projected WLTP range of 373 miles (600 kilometers). Update: CNET expects the EPA range to be around 340–350 miles. Our readers disagree, expecting significantly less. We’ll see what ends up coming to market.
Yes, we know the WLTP protocol results in rather optimistic numbers, but the important thing is the i4 will be capable of some long-distance driving before its battery needs recharging. That’s good.
When the time comes to add electrons, the company says its latest Generation 5 battery pack can add 62 miles of range in just 6 minutes using a 150 kW DC fast charger. The current i3 takes 3 times as long to accomplish a similar increase in range. BMW says an 80% charge can be obtained in about 35 minutes using the same 150 kW charger.
Details about the so-called Fifth Generation battery pack are scarce, but the company says it is significantly smaller than the Gen 3 and Gen 4 packs being used in the company’s current electric vehicles. Whether that is due to a more compact cooling system design or other factors is unknown. But decreasing the size of the pack means the company has more flexibility to adapt it to various vehicles. The new packs are said to be substantially stronger, which means they provide an extra degree of safety in collisions.
BMW says it intends to offer 25 “electrified” models by 2023. Electrified does not mean battery electric. Many of those cars will be plug-in hybrids, which is the only way BMW can hope to avoid paying massive fines after the new EU emissions standards kick in on January 1.
Despite the overall goodness of the upcoming i4, there is one aspect of the new car that will leave EV enthusiasts disappointed. The new car will ride on the same chassis as the next generation 3 Series and 4 Series sedans from BWM. That gives the company manufacturing flexibility to build cars that offer internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid powertrains, or battery electric propulsion. But it also means BMW is still hedging its bets.
Instead of designing a modular platform devoted exclusively to electric cars, as Volkswagen has done, it is keeping one foot firmly in the past while it dawdles toward the future. It is more proof of the muddled thinking that has infected the upper echelons of BMW management since the original i3 failed to take the automotive world by storm the way the company hoped it would. There is a grave danger that by failing to seize the day and fully commit to the EV revolution, BMW’s future cars will not be ultimate driving machines compared to the offerings from Tesla and possibly Volkswagen.
The company has hinted that it may offer various configurations of the i4. Smaller and larger battery packs are a possibility, as are single motor versions that would be less costly than the dual motor car.
It is too early to discuss prices yet. The car is probably about 2 years away from production at this point. Final design details have not yet been finalized, although the iVision Concept car that has been seen on the show circuit may offer some clues. BMW apparently intends to pursue a “4-door coupe” concept that is all the rage among automakers today as they are desperate to make sedans that don’t look like sedans.
The concept is appealing, although the “long hood/short deck” profile is something Ford pioneered almost 60 years ago with the original Mustang. Once again, BMW appears to be playing it safe, afraid to stray too far too fast from the paradigm that has made it one of the most prestigious brands in the world of automobiles. Other companies have had similar “stick to the formula” programs in the past. IBM and Xerox are two examples of industry leaders who go blindsided by the future. Blackberry is another recent example.
Tesla is showing the way forward, but many companies refuse to learn the lessons it is teaching them. BMW seems content to be a follower rather than a leader, a strategy that is loaded with existential risks for the Bavarian company.