BMW's i subbrand launched the i3, a full-electric city car with an ultralightweight carbon fiber frame, in 2013. BMW showed that it will continue to push the subbrand to new levels when it previewed the iNext, in September. Automotive News Europe Correspondent Christiaan Hetzner spoke with the head of the subbrand, Robert Irlinger, about BMW's electrification strategy.
Big plans for BMW's electric future
A: We have announced four BMW electric models and one Mini; that means there are seven battery-electric models still to come. When you look at the distribution of our volumes across the brands, you can get a rough idea of what the ratio [of BMWs vs. other models in the group] will be. We will try to cover the segments according to customer demands as much as possible.
Could you elaborate?
With the iX3, we are going into the compact SUV segment. The i4 is a compact sedan with a coupelike look. The iNext roughly has the dimensions of an X5. These are all volume segments we are entering since we believe demand for electric vehicles is growing, governments will support them and the infrastructure is expanding. We changed our strategy because our customers want us to bring electrification across a broad range of our models.
Is that why BMW has reserved the nameplates i1-i9 and ix1-ix9? Will you need all of them for future models?
We need to prepare ourselves for this shift toward electrification. That means getting the architectures ready, but it also means securing the rights to the names.
The i3 has struggled to live up to expectations. Will there be a replacement for the i3, or will it be repositioned as an i1 without the expensive carbon fiber bodyshell?
What I can say … is that we had a learning process. We started with a range of 130 km to 160 km [80-99 miles] in everyday conditions [with the original 60-amp-hour cell i3]. We thought that was enough since
we positioned the car for urban mobility. But the customer had a mindset that more range would be better, so we decided it was necessary to bring a second battery update relatively quickly.
Should we expect this for other models — two battery updates every five years?
The speed at which the cell chemistry changes is enormous, but there has to be a material benefit for the customer. The first update brought 50 percent more range with the 94-amp-hour cells, and the 120-amp-hour cells now add another 30 percent on top. Car buyers continue to ask for more range at present. But there could come a time when they say, for example, 600 km under WLTP rules [offered by the BMW iNext] is sufficient. Then maybe we won't need to come with an update at all. If customers want 800 km and our competitors respond, then that's a different story.
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