BMW announced the birth of its new e-mobility sub-brand i at the start of 2011, created to focus entirely on finding sustainable driving solutions. Since, we have been introduced to two concept cars – the i3 and i8 – that together reflect some of the design and engineering thinking that we should expect from the marque’s eco-arm.
The cars represent the two extreme poles of BMW – i3 is an all-electric urban run-around designed for dense megacities, i8 a a part-electric high-performance car. They share a strong aesthetic that will be developed further for the i brand, an innovative modular architecture that is at the heart of all these cars, and a high degree of connectivity that makes these cars almost like personal electronic gadgets.
Here Benoit Jacob head of BMW i Design explains further
How long did it take to design the BMW i3 and i8 concept cars?
For the first two i concepts the phases were organised slightly differently [from the normal car design process]. Since we had no predecessor on which to base our ideas, we had to develop the cars from scratch.
To begin with we generated ideas and decided on the line we wanted to take, from progressive to conservative. We adopted a very experimental approach to this phase – we didn’t just rethink the drive system, we reviewed the entire production process.
Of course, there were a few tried-and-tested ideas we could fall back on, including concept vehicles like the Vision EfficientDynamics. Interestingly, development of the first two vehicles took only about six months longer than the normal design process.
What technical innovations will have a key influence on car design?
In principle, today’s cars come as fully developed, highly complex and virtually perfect products. So as long as circumstances remain the same, design will continue to follow this 100-year-old line of development.
At BMW i we are constantly questioning existing solutions and have been able to develop an entirely new formal vocabulary thanks to innovations such as electric drives and lightweight construction.
To what extent is there cooperation between designers and developers?
As a designer it is absolutely vital that I comprehend each stage of the technological development in meticulous detail. Only then can we as the design team fully understand our development colleagues and marry the new technology to our formal vocabulary.
How do you see the future of automotive design?
One thing is certain: personal mobility, and therefore automotive design will continue to play a significant role in future. I think we’ll see a lot more innovations in the field of drive technology in the years ahead.
These might be electric drives, hybrids, vehicles powered by hydrogen or even technologies we haven’t discovered yet. And as these technologies find their expression in automotive design, they in turn will bring a new look to our roads.
BMW makes premium cars, but how would you define this in the context of the i cars?
BMW i symbolises ‘next premium’ – this is the term we use to redefine the premium concept, widening it to embrace future requirements and the need for sustainability of i vehicles.
For some time we have been observing a change in the way people are beginning to take individual responsibility for the environment. In future we will also see changes in what the consumer expects from products, in particular where sustainability is concerned.
We have to acknowledge this development in the design process and continue the trend. That’s why we have to redefine premium. For us, premium is not only defined by quality excellence in materials, surfaces and details, but also to a great extent by the manufacture and selection of sustainable materials right along the value chain.
Next premium is therefore an entirely new combination of premium and sustainability and reflects not only our corporate philosophy but also a new way of thinking for society as a whole.
What is the central message of the i design philosophy?
BMW i represents visionary automobiles and a new understanding of premium mobility with a consistent focus on sustainability. At the same time our work is all about alternative drive systems, technical innovations, production processes and the use of sustainable materials. The entire design process at BMW i is geared to this.
Our first two concept cars demonstrated the bandwidth of the new design idiom at BMW i. But between and beyond these two there’s still plenty of room for manoeuvre. As for what we’re working on for the future, you’ll just have to wait and see.
How can automotive design play a role in shaping our society?
Our society is increasingly shaped by our virtual presence. In spite of this, we still have to manage a lot of real-world mobility. In other words, our spatial interaction will continue as before – and so will our need to move from one point to another.
So mobility is set to remain a very fundamental requirement, one we must place within a much wider context. For us in the automotive industry that means constantly looking at ways to help improve mobility and ultimately make our surroundings more harmonious. As far as the future of mobility is concerned, I believe we are at the beginning of an entirely new era.
Read more on the two i cars here as well as interviews with BMW Group design director Adrian van Hooydonk as the cars were unveiled in 2011 published in Wallpaper*.
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