With their simple body lines and extensive use of recycled materials, BMW's i electric cars establish a new design language for premium but eco-friendly vehicles, says Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW top design executive.
He calls the i cars the "next premium" -- a new generation of luxury vehicles.
"We believe as a company that sustainability will become an integral part of premium in the near future," said the Dutch-born van Hooydonk, who joined BMW in 1992 and has been head of group design since 2009.
Van Hooydonk, 49, said the i cars allow BMW to try new styling ideas.
"Part of this design language, in the interior and exterior, is that the cars look exceptionally clean," he said in an interview.
The rear-wheel-drive electric i3 five-door, which has a carbon fiber passenger cell, goes on sale in the second quarter of 2014.
The tall car is BMW's first one-box design. The exterior has very few lines, and clean surfaces.
"It is a rather simple design," said van Hooydonk. "In the interior you will find all the functions that you need, but the overall impression is clean. The dashboard looks very light and there is just the bare minimum of buttons and controls."
Along with wood and leather, BMW is using materials not usually associated with premium vehicles for the i3 and i8 -- such as a dashboard made out of a fast-growing grass.
"In the i3, every material we use can be recycled or has already been recycled," he said. "The complete set of materials is an interesting mix."
The i3 has rear-hinged rear doors and no center pillar. A black band runs from the hood over the roof to the rear of the car. The front and rear windows appear to merge. The i3 has the BMW kidney grille but no openings, since there is no need for cool air to flow through.
The i8 hybrid supercar, which also goes on sale in mid-2014, has a bigger center console, befitting a sports car.
"The i8 is a faster car than the i3, and the design needs to express that," he said. "In the interior you will have more of a cockpit; it envelops you. In the i3, we wanted to create maximum space.
"The i8 is our vision of a sports car of the future -- proportionally, it is a sports car -- low and wide."
But the i8 doesn't have the traditional big and bold brakes, wide tires or exhaust of a BMW sports car. Those design features have been relegated to BMW's M high performance brand.
Van Hooydonk's vision of BMW brand design in the future carries many of the same elements. He says Bimmers to come also will have cleaner surfaces, better proportions and fewer lines. And they will also have more of a family resemblance than they did 10 years ago.
Since van Hooydonk took the helm, BMW has backed away from making its individual models stand out from other cars in the range -- such as the 2001 7-series, with its unconventional rear deck lid.