BMW wants to position its forthcoming family of electric cars as ‘premium’ vehicles, occupying the top tier of the emerging EV sector.
Designers at BMW’s Technik and FIZ technical centres in Munich are formulating new design themes for the cars, collectively known as Project i, which will be available with two, three and four wheels.
The three-wheeled Simple concept from 2008, and recently revealed for the first time, isn’t a guide on design, according to the car’s project manager, Sebastian Schelper. “Simple is about the concept and engineering, not styling,” he told Autocar. But lessons learned on the 3.5m-long Simple and its sister three-wheeler, Clever, will be incorporated into Project i cars. At 2.5m long, Clever was built to explore how to engineer a tiny car to be as safe as possible.
If BMW can hit its premium-positioning targets for the Project i cars, it will shake up the emerging EV segment when the first models are delivered around 2014/15. EVs today are usually developments of existing volume-brand cars or are limited-run, low-cost models like the G-Wiz.
A key consideration for the styling will be the brand positioning of BMW’s EV models, an important detail yet to be finalised.
“Whether Project i cars fit below Mini, between Mini and BMW or above BMW is one of the important things we’re still deciding,” said Marc Gerard, boss of BMW interiors.
One of the major factors in developing the styling is whether buyers of electric cars are prepared to make two significant steps: to drop a combustion engine in favour of electric power, and to pay for a car with radical styling.
For that reason, there’s a strong feeling inside BMW that making one step — the move to electric power — is enough and that the styling should be conventional to avoid alienating buyers.
BMW is also developing new ideas for interiors that will influence the Project i production cabins. Head-up displays and a multi-function TFT screen, both seen on the Vision ED concept, are likely to become the primary methods of getting information to the driver.
A new laser projector for the head-up display bounces laser light onto a horizontally mounted TFT to give graphics quality equal to that of the best computers and personal DVD players. These systems save weight and cut energy use, vital in an EV; the new TFT screens use 4kW of power, compared with 22kW for the screen in the current 5-series.
“This is as applicable to electric cars and Project i as it is our conventional cars,” revealed a BMW engineer.