BMW announces new eco-brand simply dubbed i

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Unless Apple has something to say about it, BMW will hit the market in 2013 with an all-new sub-brand simply called i. BMW won't call its new model iCar, however, but if trendsetting iPhone users text messages about buying "a new iCar" to their friends, the German manufacturer won't likely mind the reference.

i, of course, has more to do with BMW's longstanding alphanumeric naming scheme in which it adds an i to various models, such as 335i and 750i. The upcoming i brand's two initial models will be named BMW i3 and BMW i8, appropriately labeled as the former is a compact commuter, not unlike the 3 Series, and the latter a lower-volume supercar, possibly seen as a spiritual successor to the Z8. Still confusing, however, is the term sub-brand followed by the reference of the models as BMW i3 and BMW i8. We'll have to wait and see if the new i designation actually refers to an individual brand under the BMW umbrella, such as Mini or Rolls-Royce, or if the German automaker plans to leave its official "BMW" stamp somewhere on the car.

If the former, the smallest i model will go up against Mercedes-Benz' new electric smart car as well as an expected plug-in variant from Audi and others battling it out in the ever-growing eco-luxury segment. The entire project is the result of BMW's "sustainable vehicles and mobility solutions" program that has seen the likes of the MegaCity Vehicle and Vision EfficientDynamics (VED) concepts, but will i cars deliver on BMW's reputation for performance?

If looks are anything to judge by, performance should be part of the equation. BMW teased its i production models in a rendering that accompanied its press release, and both wear the corporate twin-kidney grille so performance had better be part of the equation or the Munich-based brand will undermine its brand integrity. Then again, back to that confusing branding issue, the new brand's stylized i is positioned where the classic roundel would normally reside, so i-car "performance" may be measured by different parameters.

The new i brand will be electrically motivated, or as Ian Robertson, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Sales and Marketing, stated, "This is BMW i – Born Electric."

The press release doesn't even mention performance in the traditional go-fast BMW sense, but refers more to environmental stewardship and BMW's leadership in sustainability.

"BMW i represents a new movement in premium mobility," added Robertson. "With the introduction of this new sub-brand, the BMW Group reaffirms its leadership as the most innovative and sustainable premium car company. The products and services have been conceived around a revolutionary approach: purpose designed and purpose built for sustainable, premium mobility."

So, what about the cars? According to the press release, the i3 will be BMW's first all-electric car designed for urban mobility. At first glance it looks like it will be positioned somewhere between the Nissan Leaf and Tesla S Model, but right now that's pure speculation. The i8 will be a plug-in hybrid so as to give it greater range, and promises "the sporting ability of a high-performance machine with the fuel consumption and emissions of a small car." Lexus has been making such claims of its hybrid models for years, so time will tell how the new i8 measures up to the premium brand HEV innovator, and don't expect Japan to stand still and watch its lead disappear.

Both i cars use what BMW calls a "revolutionary construction concept" dubbed LifeDrive architecture. The powertrain is contained within an aluminum chassis, and the passenger compartment is made from high-strength but ultra-lightweight carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP).

"Both cars have been designed specifically for their respective alternative drive systems," explained Klaus Draeger, BMW Board member responsible for development. "We used the innovative architecture and CFRP to cancel out practically all of the extra weight added by the batteries. For our customers this means superior driving dynamics combined with significantly increased range using electric power."

So it appears that BMW's new i brand has the marque's traditional sense of performance in mind too, a point driven home by Robertson who added, "With BMW i, we are building on the success and strength of our core brand."

Whether an actual brand or a trademarked name (ahem, letter) within the BMW brand, the German automaker is pushing forward with an eco-initiative that when up and running will forever change the shape of the luxury sector.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Sports Coupe, Hybrid, HEV, EV, BMW, i3, i8, Electric,

Organizations: BMW

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