BMW has revealed the iX, an electric production car for 2021 which previews the marque in the new age of transport. I caught up with Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president BMW Group design, who explains the progressive design and pioneering technology behind this flagship car. He discusses the possibilities of reinventing the marque in the post-Covid era. Read my exclusive interview here.
We caught up with BMW Group design director Adrian Van Hooydonk at the 2014 Paris Motor Show to discuss the latest Superleggera Vision Concept, sustainable driving and the future of Mini and BMW design.
DT. What inspired the team to create this latest Superleggera Vision Mini concept?
AVH. A two-seater roadster is very British; it is very traditional as a concept, yet how the design came up has such an Italian flair. It was a joint project between the very Italian Touring Superleggera and our Munich design department… so it became an interesting mix.
DT. Will the minimalist interior design translate to Mini production cars?
AVH. The dashboard was empty with the original Mini – that was all the technology they had then. We have returned to this. But now if you want to create an interior that is empty, you have to put a lot of technology underneath. We believe this is the future: to have a display in the centre of the dashboard, with everything else hidden away.
DT. What is your intention with this concept car?
AVH. You could say it is a letter of intent. There are of course certain design cues that you can very well see on the Mini of the future. For instance the front and rear end, and much of the interior that is reminiscent of the original Mini. Yes it is a vision we have for Mini – it is straight from the heart and what us designers are dreaming of.
DT. The car drives electrically. Is this also a vision for a Mini electric car?
AVH. As Mini is an urban brand, part of urban driving in the near future will be electric whether hybrid or full electric. We have already shown with BMW i that is can be very emotional, fun and fast… and yes it could work for Mini.
DT. How would the electric Mini emotionally evolve?
AVH. It is almost too early to answer this question. The Mini E offered electric driving but it was only a conversion. In the future we need to see if this should lead to a complete new design direction or not. Maybe it becomes an integral part of what Mini is. It is important to move the brand into the future and modernise it, and to give each of the cars a more unique character.
DT. How has the BMW i brand impacted on the company as a whole?
AVH. It was exceptional – it is the forefront of new technology for the whole group. We were extremely radical with the technology, manufacturing and form. Maybe with the other brands, when the time comes, we will integrate electric mobility which will influence the design but not to the extent of the i brand. It won’t make sense to do an i sub-brand for all the brands.
DT. How do you see the future of sustainable mobility for BMW?
AVH. The way we see it, electric mobility is new to the market, maybe avant-garde and maybe we’re at the forefront, but it will one day be a normal part of every company. Then you don’t need to do sub-brands. BMW i will continue its mission to deliver the newest technology that we see for the future. It will always operate ahead. Next year we are launching a car where we’ve worked hard to lower the weight and this was partly achieved by using the carbonfibre technology from the i cars. All I can say is the transfer of technology is already happening.
DT. You showed the BMW Vision Future Luxury earlier this year. How does this reflect your future form language, especially with the flagship 7 Series?
AVH. It is a true vision for our brand, full of ideas that will roll out in our next cars. We are very serious about these ideas. It is also our intention in terms of form language to go in this direction which means using very few lines. If you look at the car there is a lot of drama on the body but there are only two lines. Lines for us are graphic design; car design is more three-dimensional… what happens in between the lines. So the lines have to be sharp, precise and have the right tension, but what happens in between is even more exciting.
DT. What other elements will filter through?
AVH. The laser lights up front and in the rear is a technology we are working on that you will see in our cars. The interior is one landscape that flows into each other and the display is more integrated into the dashboard… a melting together of the central display, the header to allow the user to move information from one to the other. This we see as the future.
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The Scottish Highlands is an unusual destination to test the new i8. BMW‘s hybrid performance car is a highly advanced piece of machinery – it’s complex mechanisms hidden beneath an almost futuristic shell. This remote part of Scotland has an untamed beauty where nature is at its purist; and as our small charter plane lands in Inverness, it feels a million miles away from the high-tech world where the i8 was born. This is one of the most daring cars of late – certainly in the sustainable category – and I am seriously excited to step inside and explore.
There has been quite a long prelude to this day. The initial Vision EfficientDynamics study was shown to us almost five years ago. It was revolutionary in design. It broke away from conventional automobile aesthetic introducing non-automotive materials and applications to the exterior and interior. It had a pioneering LifeDrive architecture, looked futuristic, spacey, exciting. The i8 production car retains the drama – perhaps not the full intensity but enough to command attention.
The proportions are that of a classic sports car; elongated bonnet, stretched sexy roofline, short overhangs, long 2,800mm wheelbase, and big 20-inch wheels. The i8 though looks unique with its overlapping and interlocking surfaces and visible aerodynamic aids – especially as you catch sight of the rear fender on the wheel arch from the wing mirrors. It has playful scissor doors that open forwards and upwards, and intricately-designed full LED slender lights at the front and rear.
‘The i8 delivers a lot with very little emissions, but with great if not better emotion,’ says Benoit Jacob. A little while ago I caught up with the head of BMW i design who explained that he encourages his team to take a completely fresh approach to designing the i cars. For the i8, they studied gliders and sailing boats that move with natural energy. He told me it is designed ‘by the wind not the design team; it is dictated by nature’ and as a result this is a highly efficiently aerodynamic sculpture.
Inside is slightly tilted towards the driver in BMW fashion and the occupants sit low as you would expect in a sports car. The leather trim, treated with natural substances, covers the slim seats, extending to parts of the centre console, overlapping instrument panel and interior door panels. Elements of the carbon-fibre passenger cell, so much at the heart of this car, are exposed as you (try to) artfully enter and exit this low car via the scissor doors.
The plug-in hybrid runs on a turbocharged three-cylinder engine-electric motor duo with a combined 357hp and 155-mph top speed, yet the i8 boasts 135mpg efficiency figures. Handling is agile and steering is precise, but as much as this is a performance car, it goes beyond a sports car. Once the doors are shut, you are cocooned in a delicate, quite space where you can then choose how to drive: glide in the city on the electric motor or kick the throttle for a completely different experience on the open road.
The contrast is incredible as you switch from Comfort to Sport mode. The instrument panel switches from light blue to hot red, the roaring engine note kicks in, and you as a driver take on a new role yet the interior environment somehow takes the element of aggression out. Jacob is very much aware of the importance of directing driver behaviour in these i cars. He feels his role here is ‘to design the behaviour of the people driving these cars’. After all sustainable driving needs to be about more than saving energy.
Like many other carmakers, BMW feels there is still a valid case for investing in sports cars; that the desire will not wane. And there should be a place for sports cars in the age of sustainability – carmaker just need to create them more intelligently. We experience very little emission and greater emotion as we drive through the Highlands, reflecting the weather as the sky dramatically transforms from piercing sunshine, to torrential rain. There is hardly a car in sight. We are almost drifting in near silence celebrating the environment.
More about the drive here BMW i8 hybrid performance car.
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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.
Watch this video for more of an insight into this project
For more on the project visit BMW i.
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