Just because something can be electrified doesn’t mean it should be, though
BMW has confirmed the i4 will head for production in 2021, as part of the company’s push to have 25 electrified vehicles by 2025, further solidifying its focus on future technology.
Harald Kruger, BMW chairman, made the pledge in front of the world’s motoring media at the Paris motor show, stating the ‘i brand’ portfolio would increase to four models, with the i3 and i8 to be joined by an i4, and the iX3 SUV.
“It is my pleasure to announce that the BMW i4 will be arriving in 2021,” Kruger told the assembly.
“That means, by 2021, we will have five electric core models. This underlines our strong commitment to future mobility.”
Klaus Frohlich, board member for development, later detailed the brand’s push into the future with a smaller group of Australian journalists attending the show.
Be warned: part of the push forward has more to do with the batteries themselves – and their capacity – than it does new platforms or engine variants.
“Next year we will launch our second-generation 48V systems that will have space for bigger batteries, which are integrated into the architecture,” Frolich said.
“The strategy from 2004 to 2012 was to move to electric power as an option. In 2006 we decided we would have architecture for internal combustion, plug-in hybrid, and the same architecture that fits the battery for the 48V system.
“We had to double the energy density of the battery first.”
That research has, theoretically, helped BMW push further into the electric-only realm, well beyond petrol-hybrid drivetrains.
“Yes there will be an i4 fully electric in 2021, the size of the 3 Series,” Frohlich said.
“I can do everything in every car, but we won’t do it with every car,” he said, suggesting just because a technological leap forward is possible, doesn’t mean it will happen for the sake of it. “For example, a PHEV 8 Series, no-one is interested.”
Frohlich explained his philosophy doesn’t allow for development of technology without a platform. You get the sense he’s reiterating the importance of the motor vehicle (and thus the end product) in every step of the development phase.
“You can talk about technology, but at BMW we need a car, engineers want to drive it,” he explained.
It isn’t all roses for the electric vehicle sector, with Frohlich commenting on limitations for the segment prevalent in our market.
“It’s very clear if you want to be profitable in electro-mobility you have to have economies of scale,” Frolich said. “The development of electric vehicles in different markets is very volatile and you have to be flexible. If governments stop support, people stop buying them.”
Think of BMW’s i Division in a similar way to M Division. There might be an i-badged version of a given BMW platform, but it’s not a guarantee. That means while many of the electric BMWs will rely on existing platforms, there’s room for more specific, high-end projects like the i8.
“In 2025 we will have 25 electric vehicles, at least 12 of them will be fully electric,” Frolich said. “There will be the i3, there will be an i4, and if you look closely at the iNext project, you will see that I was prepared to do a very special car.”
The iNext was first revealed in 2017 as a concept and has been described as BMW’s eye on the future, featuring next-level autonomy, an electric drivetrain, and the highest level of connection and infotainment the company can offer.
“There will always be pinnacle cars at BMW i, where we invest a solitary approach, similar to M cars to be honest,” Frolich said. “For example the iNext will be such a car.”
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