Tag Archives: i3

Where is BMW’s Vision at Geneva?

IMG_0025The traditional positioning of Mercedes and BMW next to one another at the Geneva motor show provides a neat and obvious chance for comparing Germany’s two traditional powerhouses. And as a show of brand strength Mercedes squashes BMW this year.

Yes, Mercedes is a little brash these days. Chrome and polished surfaces are so ubiquitous that they’re in danger of undermining the quality of the fit-and-finish and engineering.

But being Geneva show neighbours does BMW no favours. It looks reticent by comparison. Understatement is a good thing – and BMW has traditionally been a master of managing and exceeding expectations – but the Bavarian company’s stand gives the distinct sense of a lack of new product and vision.

When BMW introduces new generations of it core models it starts with the 7-Series, followed by the smaller 5-Series and then the 3-Series. The 7 has just been launched, and we’re currently awaiting the 5. With the 7 being a notoriously slow-seller against the Mercedes S-Class, and the 5 replacement set to be revealed later this year, BMW is in limbo.

It’s a position made more uncomfortable by the fact that, in the real world, a new, larger 5-Series routinely makes the 7-Series seem rather redundant. When the latest 3-Series is launched it has the same effect on the 5.

The most significant car on BMW’s stand this year is the 330e, a plug-in hybrid offering the same performance as a petrol 330 for the same money. But it’s there only as a single four-door variant, untrumpeted and barely noticed alongside the i3 and i8. It’s also very clear that BMW is painfully aware of the car’s biggest limitation – reduced boot space because of the battery pack – as there are no standard four-door 3-Series models to provide an unfavourable boot capacity comparison.

The i3 and i8, beautifully marketed though they are, pose another issue: what are the next i cars? BMW leaped ahead of the market when it launched these, making EVs desirable and cool. But they’re bookends, one a true EV solution, the other a £100k sports car halo product. Where’s the middle ground, and what is the technical solution? For a company so brilliant at brand-building and engineering, the lack of narrative is puzzling.

IMG_0028Butting right up against the BMW stand is Mercedes’ vision of the future, a concept car with an interior rethought around the autonomous driving capability. It’s backed up by a plethora of plug-in hybrids, a new E-Class (5-Series competitor) and new variants of the C-Class (3-Series competitor).

BMW is celebrating its centenary this month but Mercedes has trumped it even there, with the deliciously poisonous public statement, “We warmly congratulate the globally renowned company BMW on its anniversary and invite all employees of BMW AG to discover the complete history of the automobile at the Mercedes-Benz Museum.”

p90212587-highres-1A week after the Geneva show opened, BMW marked its centenary by announcing the Vision Next 100 autonomous-driving concept car – a step on from the autonomous Mercedes at Geneva. How the Geneva stand could have done with that. BMW should hold the high ground in engineering for the future. If the Vision had been at Europe’s most important motor show it could rightly have claimed that territory. Far better that than a longer history.

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Frankfurt reflection #1: i3 makes an impact

Frankfurt i3The BMW i3s shuttling journalists around the vast Frankfurt IAA showground last week may have given us a glimpse of the future in more ways than one.

With its road network, surrounding office blocks and on-site railway station and hotels, the Frankfurt Messe site perfectly created a vision of the megacity which BMW has been planting in our minds as the habitat for electric vehicles. And the i3 was in its element, moving four adults around in style and surprising comfort, with zero tailpipe emissions, swiftly – excitingly even, with huge and immediate torque on tap – and silently.

And that’s the thing. So silent were they, with almost no noise from the skinny tyres, that it was almost impossible not to step in front of one. I nearly did. The drivers learned to play it very safe, assuming that pedestrians would not notice the car and giving them a 5-metre berth. One admitted to having hit someone on the first day.

It demonstrated how much we depend on our hearing in such situations, and makes you wonder if some sort of pedestrian avoidance system will become necessary. Or perhaps a horn with a V8 soundtrack.

Does i3 blow away the Leaf?

wallpaper-1600x1200-9BMW officially announced the first of its new range of electric vehicles yesterday with a simultaneous launch in Beijing, London and New York.

That tells you a lot: the company isn’t trying to convince anyone that the i3 is anything other than a city car, and one for style-conscious customers at that. It’s not any everyday car. BMW has a likeable honesty – electric cars are a compromise, but this one is less of a compromise than the rest. The company has made sure of that by offering two versions, one battery-only, complete with range anxiety, and a range-extender version with a petrol engine for topping up the batteries, similar to GM’s Ampera/Volt.

BMW has taken a properly ground-up approach to the design and engineering, with an innovative CRP passenger cell and largely aluminium chassis. So it’s light, offsetting the battery weight and helping ensure that is has the handling a BMW needs. And it has more torque than BMW’s own Mini Cooper S, so it’s quick.

But if the i3’s a game-changer it’s in the fact that it’s desirable – and not just because of the badge. It’s stylish and, critically, looks truly contemporary and different from everything else. The interior design is as modern as the technology and as clean as the emissions, with interesting fabrics, light tones and pale wood trim. Trim levels have names like Loft and Suite. Two iPad-like screens give an Apple-like feel. BMW could have made an electric 1-Series but this looks like a concept car. Or a Danish architect’s living room.

It’s cool and hi-tech, as an electric car should be. And it sensibly applies that technology to the practical task of overcoming some of the problems of EVs: the i3 comes equipped for fast charging, and a clever sat-nav system suggests ways of extending the battery range and directs you to charging points.

But the killer app is the cost. Priced from £25680 in the UK for the standard version and £28830 for the range-extender, including the government grant, it makes life uncomfortable for the Vauxhall Ampera (£29995) and even the Nissan Leaf (reduced to £20990). These are larger cars, but that’s not where the market is right now. People want premium and they want it in smaller cars, which happens to suit electric vehicles. So BMW’s answer is different – if i3 owners want to use a larger car occasionally they’ll be able to use something else from the BMW range.

The i3 will be successful precisely because BMW has understood that electric vehicles necessarily have limitations. Except in their appeal.