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Welcome to the world of BMW i. Under the watchful eyes of the BMW board and the world’s media, BMW’s new i3 and i8 concepts were rolled out onto the global stage in a blaze of light and moving image. The Frankfurt reveal of this pair of game-changing cars marks a decisive moment in the evolution of electric propulsion.
BMW’s i cars are remarkable for many reasons, not least for the visual drama and clean aesthetic break they make with 99 per cent of what you’ll find on the world’s roads. Expertly shaped by BMW Design, honed by the company’s legions of engineers and formed from swathes of carbon fibre, i3 and i8 demonstrate lightness, simplicity, dynamism and excitement, bearing the bright flame of BMW’s long design heritage and appearing entirely futuristic at the same time.
BMW i is a sub-brand, and these purely innovation-driven models will sit alongside BMW’s passenger cars, just as the company’s M division acts as the dynamic performance branch of the family tree. This approach gave BMW’s Munich-based design team a unique set of challenges: new architecture, new materials, new power train and new form language. This complex equation was overseen by a team led by experienced BMW i head of design Benoît Jacob. His designers, working alongside BMW’s director of design Adrian van Hooydonk, have turned out two highly sculptural machines, an elaborate and emotional fusion of forms.
In terms of initial visual kick, i3 and i8 can’t be faulted. The i8 has its antecedent in an earlier show car, the EfficientDynamics concept, but the demonstration models of both new i cars unveiled in August in Frankfurt are fully functional, production-ready machines. Come 2013, after final revisions, serial models of the i3, and shortly afterwards the i8, will start to roll off the lines at the Zaha Hadid-designed BMW factory in Leipzig, thanks to sizeable investment in new production technology and new partnerships to accelerate the evolution of both carbon fibre and battery manufacturing.
For van Hooydonk, the i designs are emblematic of BMW’s approach. ‘BMW’s design philosophy is based around authenticity: we want our car design to express what you experience when you drive our vehicles,’ he says. ‘BMW i is the best possible combination between efficiency and dynamics.’ For the designer, the task of creating a sub-brand from scratch has provided BMW with a unique opportunity. ‘In the BMW Group we’ve always been very consistent with our form language for the different brands: MINI, Rolls-Royce and BMW are all very distinct,’ he explains. ‘This new sub-brand BMW i is expressing very different things, like clean energy, lightness and good aerodynamics. So it presented a new set of challenges, but our solution is equally emotional.’
At the heart of the i brand is new technology. ‘We’re not just converting a car to electric propulsion, we’ve built a ground-up new electric car,’ says van Hooydonk. ‘This technology is so new, we’ve given it a very modern and futuristic look.’ The discipline of car design is becoming more esoteric in its sources. For BMW i this is no different. ‘We look at other creative disciplines, at what fashion designers or architects or product designers are doing,’ he says. ‘It makes sense to have a very wide view on the design world, because our customers are surrounded by all these other objects. But we still have to decide what it means for a moving object, for a car.’ It’s not hard to see a hint of Hadid’s characteristic intersecting planes and curves in the bodywork of the new cars, especially in the flanks where the sills seem to curve inwards, into the car’s interior.
The i3 and i8 have very different characters, embodying not just BMW’s new technological approach but also bookending the i range and illustrating the flexibility of the brand’s LifeDrive architecture. Automotive underpinnings are the hidden building blocks of the industry; build a sufficiently flexible platform and it can be spun off into any number of other products, slashing engineering costs and allowing branding to do the heavy lifting of differentiating one variant from another. BMW’s engineering resources are legendary – it employs thousands engineers at development centres around the world – and the company is also a dab hand at the art of brand engineering (one only has to look at the triumphant rebirth of the MINI and Rolls-Royce names under the Munich firm’s stewardship).
BMW i’s LifeDrive approach is ingenious. From the outset, the i3 will be available as a pure electric vehicle, powered by a hefty lithium-ion battery pack and a rear-mounted electric motor that come together to form the ‘Drive’ platform. Above this building block sits the ‘Life’ element, the passenger cell. Crafted from aluminium and carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, it benefits from BMW i’s ability to divorce the cabin from the powertrain, the absence of a transmission tunnel allowing for unbroken expanses of space, giving the compact city car class-leading interiors.
Space is clearly referenced in the extensive use of glass. ‘The i3 form language has large, clean surfaces to indicate zero emissions,’ explains van Hooydonk. ‘The glass gives city drivers good visibility in traffic and also makes the car look lighter. The compact and tall proportions are what we call one-box architecture, giving you a maximum amount of interior space with minimum footprint. This is the first time we’ve done this with BMW design.’ The car’s interior and exterior are united by the new BMW i design language, with its central information zone and floating dashboard, and light seats that express the weight-saving measures that have gone into the designs. Although the classic BMW ‘kidney’ grille is no longer needed as an air intake, it makes for instant brand recognition.
While the i3 is the culmination of several decades of behind-the-scenes work to shape a true city car from the company’s DNA, the i8 is a worthy heir to BMW’s sporting heritage. The larger i8 also differs from its sibling in that it’s a plug-in hybrid, using a compact turbo-charged engine in conjunction with the front electric motor. The combined package gives speed, four- wheel drive and a very competitive range with ultra-low emissions. ‘The form language is shared between the cars but the proportions are very different,’ says van Hooydonk, ‘The i8 is the sports car of the future. It’s lower and wider and faster – and it’s a highly emotional car.’
From 2013, BMW i will complement the BMW mother brand in showrooms around the world. For van Hooydonk and his team, it will be the beginning of a new era, in design and technology. ‘Every BMW will grow more efficient in the future, of course,’ he says. Things are already changing fast. BMW’s ongoing electric vehicle research has included a quarter of a million customer miles in the UK alone in a fleet of MINI Es, a long-term project that threw up some salient facts, such as an average daily journey of under 30 miles. The i3 car can travel three times that distance, thanks to its lightness and ever-evolving battery technology.
But zero-emission cars are still just one part of the equation, albeit an important one. ‘BMW i gives solutions that go beyond the car,’ says van Hooydonk. He cites Munich’s DriveNow car sharing scheme, currently using MINIs and BMW 1-Series, as a natural fit for the i3. BMW is also working on new Mobility Services tied in to the car’s unique navigation and information systems. ‘We’re already working on pilot projects to get customers better traffic and parking information,’ he says. ‘We’ve always taken a long-term view as to how cities develop and what role carmakers can play. BMW i is the beginning.’
To accompany the launch of BMW i, BMW and Wallpaper* have developed the Sustainable Neighbourhoods project (see W*144), a creative call to arms to determine new ways of looking at urban futures. Over the past six months, teams from some of the world’s top design schools have delved deep into their local environments to help us understand how personal transportation will affect people, places and neighbourhoods (see right). The cities of the 20th century were shaped by transport; the challenge of the 21st is to keep these new megacities moving.
Benoît Jacob, head of design for BMW i, describes Sustainable Neighbourhoods as a source of great inspiration for his team. ‘We learn many things from the young generation – these designers are likely to shape our future and it’s interesting to see their take on different aspects of mobility, not just cars but the big picture,’ says the French-born designer. ‘The mindset of each culture is important as well – what comes out of the US, or China, or Europe is all different.’
The integration between architecture, product and transportation design also reflects BMW’s evolving working practices. ‘The worlds of cars and architecture are very different, but sometimes the inspiration is there. Zaha Hadid’s Leipzig factory, for example, has a certain amount of dynamic motion in its gestures and form.’ But as Jacob points out, it’s much easier to change the car rather than the city. ‘The megacity is a given context; how can I seamlessly integrate into this environment and reduce my space and emission footprint?’ Sustainable Neighbourhoods has delivered a plethora of possibilities.
Sustainable Neighbourhoods is a global project, one that takes the creative cream from six very distinct urban cultures and delves deep into the emerging questions surrounding the need to move around the modern city. As part of our ongoing collaboration with BMW i, Wallpaper* joined forces with the car maker's design department and set out on a time zone-trouncing, around-the-world trip to take part in a series of workshops, crits and in-depth discussions with students, tutors and key players from BMW's global design team.
All around the world, some of the brightest student minds have been exploring the near urban future. BMW i's Sustainable Neighbourhoods Project is about how cities evolve, and the role of technology, design and creativity in shaping how future demands will shape the way we live in cities right around the world. This project has been one of the largest creative collaborations wallpaper has ever undertaken, and our team has travelled around the world to oversee the initial research, from Paris to Hangzhou, Los Angeles, London, Berlin and Tokyo.
For the first stage, Wallpaper* and BMW i, together with course leaders at each of the selected schools, have tasked their student teams with a mighty research job, scouring their nearest megacity for a suitable neighbourhood case study to act as a catalyst for creative thinking about how short term cultural and technological evolution will have an impact on the way we live tomorrow.
Wallpaper* and BMW i are giving six creative teams the opportunity to help write the future of their urban environment. The cities of the 20th century were shaped by transport, public and private; the challenge of the 21st is to keep Megacities moving. Over the course of six months, Sustainable Neighbourhoods will explore, chronicle and research six different city zones, with the aim of defining a new infrastructural, cultural or social project that will scale seamlessly into the future.
The possibilities are endless. Wallpaper and BMW i are looking for innovative thinking, a combination of pragmatism and panache that seeks out space and opportunity for change for the better. From infrastructure to personal future mobility, the unseen heart of the city, through to cultural or social initiatives that harness existing technologies or propose entirely new ones, this project is about seeking new ways of developing and sustaining communities in the heart of the Megacity, integrating transport, services, life, work, design and the urban fabric.
A new kind of movement has arrived.
A movement that defines our future.
It’s pure, progressive shapes fascinate us.
It’s lightening performance energizes us.
It’s intelligent applications and services help us relax.
And its unparalleled use of sustainable technology
reflects our desire to live responsibly.
It combines what we know with what we dream of,
the possible with the impossible.
It combines what is good for us with what is good
for our planet.
This is a new world of revolutionary mobility.
This is BMW i. Born Electric.
What a night. Two days before the launch of BMW i, a breathtaking installation was projected on to the BMW Tower, BMW Museum and BMW Welt in Munich, showing moods of the new sub-brand.
BMW i delivers innovative mobile solutions that improve urban mobility – inside and outside the car. In a quest to help shape the cities of the future, we deliver smart services and seamless mobile experiences.
For more information about our mobility services, visit www.bmw-i.com/mobilityservices.
Berlin’s character and dynamism are derived from its fractured past. The post-reunification city is architecturally rich and its infrastructure complex, with a burgeoning cycling culture co-existing with public and private transport. Low car ownership and a walkable centre make it receptive to new ideas.
This 500 square mile city has become globally synonymous with endless sprawl and quasi-religious automotive culture. Known for its infamous smogs, which kick-started California’s draconian and innovative pollution legislation, LA remains utterly reliant on the car – yet its citizens are willing to seek out new ideas.
A city of parks, pagodas and bus routes, Hangzhou is typical of China's second tier urban centres, with modern life threaded through an often beautiful existing fabric. Still fast expanding, with a metro line in the works and a burgeoning tech centre, the city is home to thousands of students and a growing private transportation sector.
London presents an enormous challenge to future mobility. Due to the intense pressure on its public transport infrastructure, London was a pioneer of congestion charging. But the capital’s historic core ensures that change has to be pragmatic, innovative and realised to an exceptional standard.
Tokyo’s massive rail-based infrastructure serves its commuting-dependent but crush-weary population efficiently but uncomfortably. With a hi-tech-friendly, rapidly regenerated urban landscape, Tokyo’s relationship to personal mobility is open to change and innovation.
The Parisian mobility experience is one of dense layers and much-needed local knowledge. One of the most walkable capitals, Paris rewards the urban explorer, whether on foot or on bike. France has led with city bike schemes, and its Vélib’ is one of the world’s largest. A free-spirited metropolis with headspace for change.