BMW Can't Do Electric AND Autonomous, Will Focus the i Range on the Latter

BMW i3 1 photo
Photo: Catalin Garmacea
If you're a true supporter of electric cars and not just a Tesla fanboy, then you'd really root for all manufacturers to come up with decent EVs that will slowly (or not) take over the market. However, this dream some might have seems a long way from becoming reality, and this latest report from BMW has just put another nail in its coffin.
A few years back, BMW was one of the most promising traditional manufacturers with plans for a completely new range dedicated to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles that would use pioneering materials and bold design. Well, two i models later, both of these characteristics prove do be true, but it didn't help the i8 and i3 take off.

If the i8 is recognized as one of the most beautiful cars of late, the i3 tries to lure its customers with a face even a mother would have trouble loving. As for the rear... well, let's just say it's best to avoid laying your eyes on it. It's certainly innovative, but if "innovative" can't mix with "beautiful," then no, thank you very much. Some people might have liked its perkiness, but it would have been better off with a more "mainstream" design approach.

And then there were the other two factors: range and price. The first was never a selling point for the i3 since the Nissan LEAF offered more miles for less money. The BMW i3, on the other hand, was a premium vehicle so paying extra money for similar features came with the territory. BMW also made a big deal about the i3's dynamic performances, but even though the rear-wheel-drive EV was fun to drive, its very narrow tires meant that any stab at the accelerator pedal at low speed was met with the risk of losing control and crashing. The contact patch of the tires just wasn't enough to cope with the torque.

You might have noticed by this point that we're referring to the i3 in the past tense. That's not at all accurate since you can still buy one, and BMW isn't discontinuing the vehicle. However, given BMW board member Klaus Froehlich's recent statement, you can't help but feel that the i3 has turned into the failed project nobody wants to speak of - and definitely doesn't want to pump any more money into.

Mr. Froehlich said that, with 25,000 i3s sold in 2015, it can't compete with the launch of Tesla's Model 3 (373,000 reservations, remember?), so it decided to pull the plug on the planned sports limousine that would have been a direct competitor. Only a lot more expensive and, most likely, with a worse range performance.

Instead, BMW realized that the next big thing in the automotive industry will be the self-driving cars (well, good morning!), so admitting the company can't afford to invest time and resources into both of these side projects (because that's what they are for a traditional carmaker), it has decided to focus on a single one. BMW won't be throwing the towel on EVs, it will just be taking a break until, reports say, 2021. So any i car launched in between is going to use a hybrid powertrain and offer ever increasing self-driving capabilities.

Admitting defeat couldn't have been easy for BMW, but sometimes you just have to man up and cut your losses, even if you're a proud German company that's currently still on the top of the food chain in the premium segment. Let's just see if it can keep up with the rest of the industry when it comes to autonomous driving as well, especially since Tesla might be cooking up something big for later this year.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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