With the BMW i3 and i8, which rolled out in 2013 and 2014, respectively, the German automaker set out to demonstrate what it could do with green powertrains and cutting-edge lightweight materials like carbon fiber — and make a statement in the process. BMW may have proved all it feels it needed to prove, at least when it comes to those two particular models. That’s why, according to a report at Autocar, the two pioneering i sub-brand vehicles may not get direct replacements.
This shouldn’t come as a total surprise; BMW i’s design head Domagoj Dukec draws parallels to another one-run-and-done BMW: The M1, which was built between 1978 and 1981. The M1 never saw a direct follow-up (though the i8 is itself a sort of spiritual successor), but it nevertheless helped cement the automaker’s reputation as a builder of world-class performance machines.
Whether or not the i3 and i8 continue or die off after this generation, it probably matters little when it comes to BMW’s broader green vehicle strategy. Last year, BMW CEO Harald Krueger said that the automaker locked down naming rights for badges ranging from i1 to i9 (for cars) and iX1 to iX9 (for crossover/SUVs). Some number of these will make up the 25 electrified cars — including 12 full-electric offerings — BMW says it will roll out by 2025.
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In the spirit of the i3 and the i8, a few of these offerings will likely be funky-looking; see these patent drawings for a potential i5 for a hint of what we can expect. Another, an i-brand flagship (which is code-named iNext but will probably launch as the i9), will supposedly enter production in 2021.
Yet many, or even most, of these vehicles will be more conventional. The fully electric iX3 Krueger says is coming in 2020 will be an X3 variant, not a totally new design. This makes sense for a number of reasons. For one, it’s redundant to have completely different platforms and body styles for, say, an iX3 and an X3, especially when you’re attempting to spread green tech into all of your offerings — and sell globally to consumers living under vastly different regulatory regimes.
But there’s also the tricky matter of consumer taste. The i3 and the i8 are unconventional-looking and attention-grabbing; their designs appeal to green tech early adopters who are proud of their (relative) independence from fossil fuels. Hyper-efficient hybrids and alternative-fuel cars are pushing their way into the mainstream, and buyers don’t necessarily want them to stand out; this is the sort of thing that happens when cutting-edge tech becomes more widely accepted.
The upcoming Honda Insight, for example, promises Prius-like fuel economy but offers conventional looks. Lack of grille aside, even the Tesla Model 3 EV doesn’t have the concept-car looks of BMW’s two i cars. The same can be said about the i-cars’ use of carbon fiber, something that is spreading, slowly, across BMW’s entire product line.
If there’s any consolation for those i8 fans out there, it’s that, whatever the future holds in store for the model, we’re at least getting that long-promised i8 Roadster — not a bad send-off if that’s how it’s going to end.