BMW i3 future in doubt

Senior figure casts doubt on future of BMW i3, as company turns attention to ‘mainstream’ electric cars

The BMW i3 – now in its seventh year of production – may not be replaced as the company shifts its focus to higher-volume electric vehicles, a senior figure has said.

Speaking to our sister title Auto Express, BMW board member Pieter Nota said it was “difficult to say if the i3 will have a straight successor” as the German carmaker gears up to launch the iX3 SUV in 2020.

“The i3 had a pioneering role, it was at the very beginning of BMW’s electrification plans,” he added. “But what we are seeing now is that electrification is moving more into the mainstream.”

Launched in 2013, the i3 uses a carbon-fibre chassis, as does the BMW i8 Coupe and i8 Roadster. However, this is likely to be phased out in the firm’s new models in favour of cheaper underpinnings that support electric, plug-in hybrid, petrol and diesel vehicles.

“We will continue to use carbon-fibre,” Nota said, “but not exactly in the way that we see in the i3 today.”

The i3 was updated in 2018 with a new 42.2kWh battery, and at the time it was suggested that further upgrades were preferred to the prospect of introducing an all-new successor.

Earlier this year, BMW i Division chief Robert Irlinger said that the car isn’t tied to a conventional life cycle, which would ordinarily end after seven years on sale.

“There is always further potential,” Irlinger said at the Geneva Motor Show in March. “We always look to the market and whether we’ll need something – a big update or a small update.

“But there is more to come. When you’re talking about the battery, actually we had quite good feedback from the markets that the latest [42.2kWh] one is totally fine, if you’re using the car normally in an urban area. There's a little bit more coming; you will see something.”

He added that the division’s other i vehicle – the i8 – enjoys a similar life-cycle freedom, explaining: “With i, we will always try something new. Every year we’ve been selling more.”

Meanwhile, Irlinger also confirmed that BMW’s M division – maker of performance vehicles like the M3 – is in talks with the i department about using its electric technology.

An electric version of the latest BMW 3 Series is rumoured to be in the pipeline, but so far M cars have refrained from embracing electrification. That'll soon change, however. “You will see electrified vehicles in M division as well,” Irlinger confirmed. “We are working with them, right now.”

Talks with other BMW Group brands – such as Rolls-Royce and MINI – are also being held. “There are some real advantages from incorporating electric power into performance vehicles,” Irlinger continued. “You have immediate torque delivery, which can give you acceleration while a combustion engine is still thinking about it. These advantages we will spread to the whole brands, in a specific way.”

BMW is set to launch 25 new electrified vehicles by 2023. Last month, it confirmed that its electrification plans were two years ahead of schedule, having previously targeted 2025 to deliver its planned electrified models.

The forthcoming iX3 will join the existing X3 line-up and become the first model in BMW’s line-up to be offered with a complete range of powertrain choices.

The i4 electric saloon is set to follow in 2021, with BMW claiming it will rival the Tesla Model S with more than 372 miles of range.