BMW has released details of its new ‘i’ sub-brand concept models, the electric ‘Megacity’ i3 Concept and the sporty plug-in hybrid i8 Concept, production versions of which are planned for market introduction from 2013.

Ian Robertson, BMW Group board member responsible for sales and marketing, recently told just-auto that the new BMW i-brand introduces models that address the sustainability message, but with products that are also blessed with core BMW premium values.

“The sustainability message is clearly an important element, under the umbrella of the overall Group,” Robertson said. “It is at one end of the spectrum and ‘M’ is at the other. Is M divorced from sustainability? No, it is not. The new generation 5 Series is proof of that: an increase in horsepower and a massive reduction in CO2. The i-brand is a range of cars with two bookends at the moment: the megacity i3, and the i8 which is a new definition of what the sports car is for the future: the plug-in hybrid with an onboard combustion engine, using new materials, using new technologies, new techniques generally.”

Robertson also stressed the need for BMW Group to offer a multitude of different powertrain configurations to a fragmented and evolving global marketplace, including plug-in hybrid and full electric vehicles as well as efficient diesel and gasoline engines that deliver performance and economy.

“Europe is predominantly a diesel market, North America is predominantly a petrol market, South America is predominantly an ethanol market and there are grey bits around the edges. Diesel is getting more traction in the US at the moment – diesel is outselling hybrids with the exception of the Prius. We can’t supply enough diesels to the US at the moment,” Robertson said.

“The important thing is to have a range of powertrain and techology solutions to cover all eventualities in terms of evolving market trends and local preferences.”

“This is part of managing volatility. We make great petrol engines, great diesel engines, we make hybrids, we will make plug-in hybrids, full electric vehicles and we may make hydrogen vehicles – though that [hydrogen] is technically quite challenging. The trick is to have the technology developed that can respond to a set of unknown circumstances.”

BMW is working on assumptions that pure electric vehicles will account for around 3-6% of the total car market by 2020.

“But we also think that maybe up to 50% of the total market will by then have some form of electrical overlay – from some form of hybridisation, to plug-in hybrids to other forms of what could be non-combustion engine driving for a limited period. That also tells you that in the same time frame the predominant propulsion system is petrol and diesel and the underpinnings of an electrical overlay are also petrol and diesel. So the development of those engine technologies remains a very high priority for a company like ours.”

Robertson also highlighted the importance of new manufacturing techniques for lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced plastic parts on the planned i-brand models. “It comes into its own on weight with electric vehicles. And we decided that this is a strategic direction, so we started a joint venture to invest to do this. We are learning what is possible and it is developing very quickly.”

BMW is planning to make ‘tens of thousands’ of its i-brand models a year, a level of output that it says takes carbon-fibre manufacturing for cars into much higher volume territory than previously.

BMW i3 Concept 
The BMW i3 Concept was previously known as the Megacity Vehicle. As the BMW Group’s first series-produced all-electric car it focuses on the mobility challenges in urban areas. BMW claims  that as ‘the first premium electric vehicle, [it] reinvents the hallmark BMW attributes for the future’.

The company says that the i3 Concept’s ‘ LifeDrive’ architecture and its use of materials and  lightweight design will enable the i3 Concept to travel long distances on a single charge and provide ‘superb safety’ in the event of a collision. The car has an electric motor over the rear axle – which generates output of 125 kW/170 hp and torque of 250 Nm (184 lb-ft) from a standstill – and a small turning circle combine to deliver ‘pleasingly crisp driving characteristics’. The BMW i3 Concept accelerates from 0 to 60 km/h (37 mph) in under four seconds and from rest to 100 km/h (62 mph) in less than eight seconds.

BMW says that the select materials lend the open and airy cabin a ‘lounge-like’ character. The use of renewable raw materials is another defining characteristic of the interior, the company says, offering passengers a further means of ‘experiencing’ the sustainability of the vehicle. Parts of the instrument panel and door panelling are visibly made from natural fibres, while the naturally tanned leather of the seats creates a lounge-style ambience, BMW claims. There are four seats, wide-opening opposing ‘coach’ doors, a boot/trunk capacity of around 200 litres and an additional functional compartment in the front.

BMW is also highlighting ‘innovative connectivity’ on the car to ‘create a seamless connection between the BMW i3 Concept and its customers’ lives outside the car’. Remote functions accessible via a smartphone enable owners to find their vehicles, flag up nearby charging stations, allow battery charging and preconditioning at the touch of a button, and supply information on the current status of the vehicle. Intelligent assistance systems ‘ease the stress on drivers in monotonous city driving situations and allow them to arrive at their destination more safely and in a more relaxed state of mind’.

BMW i8 Concept
The BMW i8 Concept is described by BMW as ‘the vision of a sustainable contemporary sports car brought to life’. The plug-in hybrid concept combines the modified electric drive system from the BMW i3 Concept – fitted over its front axle – with a high-performance three-cylinder combustion engine producing 164 kW/220 hp and 300 Nm (221 lb-ft) at the rear. Working in tandem, BMW claims that the two drive systems deliver the ‘performance of a sports car but the fuel consumption of a small car’.

Acceleration of 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under five seconds combined with fuel consumption in the European cycle of under three litres per 100 kilometres (approx. 94 mpg imp) are figures that BMW says are currently beyond the capability of any vehicle powered by a combustion engine of comparable performance. The i8 concepts lithium-ion battery, which can be charged from a domestic power supply, can deliver a range up to 35 kilometres (approx. 20 miles) on electric power alone. Added to which, the 2+2-seater offers enough space for four people, giving it a high level of everyday practicality, according to the company.

The motor in the front axle module and combustion engine at the rear are connected by an “energy tunnel”, which houses the high-voltage battery. This, BMW claims, gives the car a low centre of gravity – and the driving dynamic benefits that come with it. The positioning of the electric motor and engine over their respective axles result in an optimum 50/50 weight distribution.

See also: INTERVIEW: Ian Robertson, BMW Group sales and marketing director