BMW i: Designing electric cars

A little while ago we reported on BMW’s new e-mobility sub-brand i. Announced at the start of the year, it was created to focus entirely on finding sustainable driving solutions.

Last week the German marque showed us the first two cars the i3 and i8 to be produced under the BMW i brand. Though still study pieces, they reflect some of the design and engineering thinking that we should expect from the BMW’s eco-arm.

The cars represent the two extreme poles of the brand – i3 an urban run-around designed for dense megacities based on the Megacity Vehicle, the i8 a sexy super sports car. The former runs on pure electricity whilst the latter is a part-electric high-performance car.

Yet they share a strong aesthetic that will be developed further for this BMW i brand, an innovative modular architecture that is at the heart of all these cars, and crucially a high degree of connectivity that makes these cars almost like personal electronic gadgets filtered over from the ConnectedDrive prototype unveiled in March.

Aerodynamic efficiency has governed much of the design of both the i3 and i8 leading to a very unique aesthetic that at once feels modern and an expression of the green technology that runs these cars. There are lots of aero-inspired touches here and there including fantastically elegant 19-inch wheels made super narrow to help with aerodynamics.

Glass dominates visually – used extensively on the exterior to make these cars appear light, and feel open and spacious inside. This works particularly best with the small city i3 car with its relatively small footprint – 3845mm long, 1537mm tall and 2011mm wide – maximising space.

The modular ‘LifeDrive’ architecture under the skin also helps with freeing up the cabin space. Everything associated with running the car, all the mechanics, are stored neatly in a flat and low aluminium Drive structure whilst the Life part sits neatly on top.

The carbonfibre material used to make the Life part is similar to that applied to Formula One cars so that it is not only very lightweight but extremely stiff, meaning the team have managed to eliminate the B-pillar and play around with coach doors.

The cars will be produced in 2013 at BMW’s Leipzig factory designed by Zaha Hadid.

We caught up with BMW Group design director Adrian van Hooydonk in Frankfurt as the cars were unveiled. Read our interview with him as published in Wallpaper*. Read more about BMW’s project i in our report for Car Design News.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Watch this video for more of an insight into this project

For more on the project visit BMW i.

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