BMW has confirmed that its fully autonomous iNext will be shown in concept form later this year, before entering production at its Dingolfing plant in 2021.
Accompanying chairman Harald Krüger's announcement at the group's annual general meeting was a very blue preview shot, revealing the car in profile. Although simplified to hide the finer details, it's clear to see from the long roofline and boxy wheel arches that the car will be an SUV, with a distinctive glasshouse incorporating a stylised motif of the kidney grille, similar to that of the i Vision Dynamics concept revealed at last year's Frankfurt motor show.
The iNext will be pitched as BMW's tech flagship, so expect cutting-edge innovations in infotainment and interior technology, as well as the brand's latest electric powertrain and well-documented driverless tech.
Krüger said: "The iNext project is our building kit for the future. It will benefit the entire company and all of our brands. For the first time, we're combining all key technologies for future mobility in one vehicle. The iNext is fully electric, fully connected and offers highly automated driving."
BMW originally announced in 2016 that it had joined the race to produce fully autonomous cars and has teamed up with tech firms Intel and Mobileye in a bid to offer its first fully self-driving car in 2021. BMW now claims that 'level 3.5' autonomy will be possible from the car.
Although not one of the official five levels of autonomy, 'level 3.5' will bridge the gap between 3 and 4; the former allows part-time fully autonomous driving but requires human intervention in certain circumstances, while level 4 allows completely human-free driving altogether.
Krüger confirmed that any autonomous BMW would still exhibit the values and level of entertainment afforded by today's BMWs. The platform that the three companies are developing will be opened to other car manufacturers that wish to build a car with similar values.
The iNext's electric powertrain will give a range of over 310 miles (500km), although BMW has not released any further details.
As for other upcoming BMW models, the i Vision Dynamics previewed the Tesla Model S-rivalling i5, also due in 2021, while an electric version of the X3, the iX3, is just around the corner. This will face stiff opposition from the Audi E-tron, Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQ C.