“There are two lines of thought on the new i8. Both appear to have their merits, but there is no definitive decision as yet,” a high-ranking BMW official said in response to rumours in the German media suggesting the company had already settled on the alternative all-electric option.
With raw material and battery cell sourcing contracts becoming an increasingly important consideration in the production of hybrids and pure-electric cars, a decision on how the i8 will progress would likely need to be taken before the end of 2019 to ensure it meets its planned introduction date.
Among the factors favouring BMW’s original hybrid plan for the next i8 is the relative ease and little cost with which the existing model’s carbonfibre and aluminium platform could be upgraded to accommodate a new petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain.
“I have a carbonfibre chassis in the i8, so I would like to use something like that with much more performance – electric and conventional,” Fröhlich said in response to queries on the future of the i8.
BMW’s head of development also indicated the new i8 could receive a four- or six-cylinder combustion engine in place of the three-cylinder petrol unit in use today: “Then it will be very soon in the 600bhp-or-something region and it will not have a weight of two tonnes.”
With today’s facelifted first-generation model developing 369bhp, such a move could potentially provide the second-generation i8 with nearly double the power of its predecessor. However, such a figure is still significantly down on that of a number of recent electric hypercars, most of which exceed 1000bhp and are from start-up firms.
Maintaining the i8 as a plug-in hybrid may allow BMW to keep it at a more reasonable price point than those cars, which tend to list in the seven-figure range. Although a full-electric car is likely to be pricier, BMW’s economies of scale and engineering would still help keep costs (and therefore the car’s price) down.
A decision on whether BMW will opt to spend big and turn the i8 into a pure-electric model or adopt a significantly more powerful hybrid driveline within a modified structure from the existing model is expected to be made during a board meeting in the second half of this year.
The electric i8 would have to beat
Audi is set to reinvent the R8 as an electric supercar in 2022, according to sources. While that will spell a sad end to the glorious naturally aspirated V10 engine, it will likely give a substantial performance increase. A battery-powered R8 will serve as the ‘halo’ model in Audi’s market-leading electrification plans, with targets to sell 800,000 electrified cars by 2025. The current R8’s sales haven’t been as strong as its predecessor’s and this radical rethink aims to address that.