New BMW i4 to take BMW electric cars mainstream in 2021
BMW’s i electric cars will take a big step towards the mainstream with the third model, the i4, Auto Express has learned. Due in 2021, the BMW i4 will narrow the gap between the company’s radical i3 and i8 vehicles and BMW’s big-sellers, the 3 and 5 Series.
Up to now, the standalone i models have been very distinct from anything else in the BMW line-up - helped by unique construction and the use of materials, including carbonfibre, that are notoriously difficult to ramp up into larger-scale production. But the i4 will be based on a version of BMW’s latest CLAR platform, which is a modular architecture designed to underpin everything from the 3 Series up to the 7 Series, and to accommodate petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and pure-electric powertrains.
BMW confirmed at the recent Paris Motor Show that the i4 will follow soon after the iX3 all-electric SUV and the production version of the larger iNEXT crossover. Company boss Harald Kruger confirmed the dates for the pure-electric models that will join the i3 in BMW’s line-up. “We have already over 300,000 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids on the road,” he said, “and more are on the way. In 2019 we’ll launch the MINI Electric. In 2020 the BMW iX3 will come. Then in 2021 we will launch the BMW iNEXT and the i4, so by that year we will have five core electric vehicles on the ground. This underlines our strong commitment to future mobility.”
Senior BMW officials have started to hint that instead of sitting apart from any other model range, like the i3, the i4 will in effect be treated as a variant of the forthcoming 4 Series Gran Coupe. Our image shows how the car could look, taking cues from the newly revealed 3 Series and BMW’s previous concept, the i Vision Dynamics. Insiders have suggested the i4 could have the same basic profile as the Gran Coupe but sit higher above the road to allow for the batteries to be placed closer to the vertical position of the car’s axles.
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BMW design director Adrian van Hooydonk told us, “I think in the next years, electric mobility will become standard; it will become normal. It will become just one of those powertrains that you can choose. And that will probably lead to the customers not necessarily wanting a design differentiation.
“With the original i3, we wanted to give our customers the feeling that they are stepping into the future. But in the future we will offer our customers the choice; they can be very secret about the fact that their BMW is electric, or they will be able to be overt about it.”
When asked if this meant the i4 would have a more conventional look than the i3 and i8, BMW’s head of i division, Robert Irlinger, said, “Yes, you could put it that way. The vehicles will be closer to the cars we have already in market. Look at the iX3; it’s really an i but it’s also an X3. Look at the i4 and you’ll see it’s clearly an i but it’s close to a car whose name may begin with 4. We have to be prepared that our customers could say, ‘I don’t want to have a specific car. I want to have my BMW that I love, in an electrified version.’”
BMW i4: range, charging and battery tech
BMW will deploy the battery tech developed for the i3 and i8 to full effect in the i4, delivering a range to rival the likes of Tesla’s Model S - as much as 600km, or 375 miles. Irlinger said, “We asked the customers; it seems to be that the starting point for i3 in the early days was okay. But it seems that now, 300km (186 miles) is the minimum that you can offer to have an accepted range for customers. Then there’s competition - Tesla, Audi and Mercedes are doing 400km (250 miles) in WLTP. So it seems to be again beyond 300km - up to 600km (375 miles) or 700km (435 miles). But if you look at the numbers we’ve already spoken about, the iX3 will be beyond 400km and the i4 will be around 600km. The iNEXT will be on top of that, as well.”
Irlinger admitted that BMW could offer the i4 with a choice of battery capacities for different price points. “It could be that different ranges are a good solution,” he said. “If it’s true that 300km is enough for some customers, then it could be wise to do a 300km version and a 600km version. We’ll have to look at demand, of course, because up to now, what we’ve found is that the customers tend to always buy the bigger battery anyway. But if you live in a city and do most miles there, and you have your own charging point or good infrastructure nearby, then 300km at a cheaper price could be fine.”
i4 may look more conventional than the i3 and i8, but that doesn’t mean that the i sub-brand will be toned down completely. Van Hooydonk insisted that the CLAR platform gives enough scope for the packaging of a pure-electric vehicle but he added, “We will still, when we feel it makes sense, do a complete, bespoke, standalone car. Not all cars have to happen on the CLAR platform.” This could be a reference to the iNEXT, which is likely to showcase autonomous technologies and could be pitched at the summit of the BMW line-up - necessitating its own architecture.
Do you think the BMW i4 will be a groundbreaking electric car? Let us know your thoughts in the comments...