Just how hard is it to change direction in a BMW? While driving one of the company's vehicles, you'll find little disagreement that it can be easy, even quite pleasurable. But if you're trying to change the direction of the company itself – making the idea of driving fun play nice with fuel efficiency and plug-ins – well, then it's a bit more difficult. You need to take your time, something like five years, and you need someone like Herbert Diess.

"We come from a situation where we build a car and sell it to a customer and then don't bother him any more. We are revolutionizing this."

Diess is the New Board Member for Development for BMW, and he has overall responsibility for product development, including hybrids and diesels. Since last April, he has been in charge of developing the technological advances for Project i. We spoke to him recently about the upcoming launch of the plug-in i3, the first of the new range of vehicles that make up Project i. The city car will be followed by the i8 plug-in hybrid in early 2014. He knows what his priority is, for now, given the fact that a couple hundred i3 prototypes currently exist, that BMW is wrapping up winter testing and refining components and that the whole project is "well on the way to production," he told AutoblogGreen. "The big task this year is to launch Project i, the i3. We are confident we will launch the car on time in the fourth quarter."

Launching the i3 is not the same as putting any other BMW on the market. As the company learned with the Mini E and ActiveE test programs and the DriveNow carsharing unit, some of today's drivers think differently. To change with them, car companies are becoming mobility companies, Diess said.

"We come from a situation where we build a car and sell it to a customer and then don't bother him any more," Diess said. "We are revolutionizing this. We think, ok, maybe he doesn't want to own a car but still drive a BMW. Maybe he wants to drive the car only from here to there and then he wants to swap to a different transport medium. We are focusing on all those activities in the launch of the sub-brand i."



On top of different ways to use a vehicle, BMW is planning new ways to promote the i3. "We think we have a very different approach, and you see it in the product. It's a very comprehensive approach that includes not only bringing the car to the market but also revolutionizing the way we are marketing the car. We will offer the car with additional services that are required so, for instance, you can get access to renewable energy, if you want, in several areas worldwide."

When the i3 is released, BMW will offer up a suite of smartphone apps and mobile ways to see the car's charging state, the temperature, where the car is, how far you can go on the current charge. While not unique in the era of connected vehicles, this is new for a mass-market BMW. "We will accompany the car with many internet-based services where you get much more information than you expect with your normal car," Diess said. "That is why we believe it will be a product that customers will love."

"You can get people coming to your house bringing you the car, letting you test the car."

More revolutionary is the way BMW will have special dealers to educate potential buyers as well as offer lots of information online and, most interestingly, home-based test drives where "you can get people coming to your house bringing you the car, letting you test the car." These programs will be mainly focused in urban areas, so don't expect them to flatbed an i3 out to the Kenai Peninsula.

Mini E

"After a while they would stop charging it every day and only charge it every second day."

Getting to test a plug-in vehicle at home is important to figuring out if battery-powered driving is for you. Thanks to the Mini E and ActiveE electric vehicle fleets over the last few years, "The first feedback from the Mini E confirmed our way of equipping the car with a commuting range," Diess said. "Most people would start with the car charged and, during the day, travel 40-50 kilometers [25-31 miles] and then, after a while they would stop charging it every day and only charge it every second day. We found that the overwhelming majority of our customers were very happy with the range, with some exceptions where it was not the right car for their circumstances. "

"We don't want to overload the car with battery cells. We never wanted to build a car that can compete for the long-distance traveler."

BMW has tried to make the i3 the right car for most anyone who drives in the city. This means using the new LifeDrive carbon fiber cell (details here). Diess said, "I would say the most revolutionary is the car itself because if really breaks the rules of body, shell and drivetrain. We have a new architecture. Our goal, right from the start, was to come to market with a car which will be emotional and fun to drive and deliver on our core competence which is driving pleasure. Meaning, the vehicle should be fully electric and focused on cities, so it has to be an agile car. We don't want to overload the car with battery cells. We think the range should be for daily commuting. We never wanted to build a car that can compete for the long-distance traveler."

bmw i3 carbon fiber reinforced plastic body

He continued, "The outcome really pleases us. We have been driving the car for a couple months and are relatively close to series production and it's just great fun. If I can drive one of the prototypes, it is my first choice for city driving. It has a relatively high seating position, it is smooth, the accelerator pedal is very proportional and spontaneous. It's 0-60 below eight seconds. It has very low turning radius, so you can move very fast. It's just fun. That is why we have a very good chance to make a success out of it because it's not only a sustainable product and very environmentally friendly, it's also an emotional product."

The i3 launches at the end of the year, so we will soon have a very good chance to find out.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 24 Comments
      noevfud
      • 1 Year Ago
      So BMW. Lots of compliance cars, fancy PR and concept pictures. Then the soon to be over priced EV that few will be able to afford. Of course it wil not have clear doors, perhaps a small sense of that, and it wil be to heavy and one will need to add on $10K of options to make it full featured. I hope it is more reliable than the Active E conversion. I bet $45K.
        mikeybyte1
        • 1 Year Ago
        @noevfud
        You imply that the rest of the BMW lineup is affordable. BMW has always been a premium brand, so why expect their electric cars to be any different?
        Sasparilla Fizz
        • 1 Year Ago
        @noevfud
        $45k eh? That's just outrageous with the Volt at $40k and the Ford Focus Electric at $40k. ;-) Of course we'll see what they go for soon, 45k sounds on target to me.
      Andy Smith
      • 1 Year Ago
      We don't want any more hype, Tv ads, posh magazine pull outs, facebook pages...Just release the F-ing thing
      Carguy
      • 1 Year Ago
      As a current Active E driver I can say that if they are able to use the same motor/battery and put it in a purpose built EV body that is close to 1000 pounds lighter then its a pretty impressive package. It will never be the right for everyone but as a commuter car for someone who lives in a metro area and has a garage/driveway where they can plug in at night its a great car.
        otiswild
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Carguy
        If the interior space is as good or better than Volt and the charger's improved (preferably >10kW, maybe ~13kW like the e-Mini's) I'd be very interested in trading my Volt in for this. While it's a shorter 'city car', it's taller and could have comparable front-seat legroom.
          MTN RANGER
          • 1 Year Ago
          @otiswild
          Interior room is said to be similar to a 3 series. The dimensions also show that it is fairly wide. It will be interesting to see the final specs.
      Rotation
      • 1 Year Ago
      Launch the car already. And stop showing the pictures of the concept.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        We still haven't seen the real car?
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          We've seen it under camouflage. And we've seen a concept coupe which appears to have the final exterior. http://www.bmw-i-usa.com/en_us/bmw-i3/ See how in those pictures it doesn't have a door made of glass? The pics on that page are clearly much closer to the final version than this concept pictured above is.
      JP
      • 1 Year Ago
      I was really hoping for an improvement in looks, and aerodynamics, in the production vehicle. At least they dumped the glass doors.
      Captain Stu
      • 1 Year Ago
      Looks like a more conventional approach to Gordon Murray's istream.
      Grendal
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'd much rather hear "it's revolutionary and a lot of fun to drive" from an owner.
      Pat Gatounet
      • 1 Year Ago
      Mr Herbert Diess understand how to build EV gadgets that makes the press talk about them and about BMW, but that nobody will buy with its own money. But he does not understand at all what historical BMW customers expect from their beloved Brand in that EV space, and more precisely on PHEV real cars space. And since I'm a happy BMW 530da customer, formerly 325D customer...etc, here is what I expect from BMW next year. Instead of these iGadgets 2nd cars limited to local commutes only, I want a BMW X4 set with a Tesla like Full Electric drive train, and with a Tesla like 40, 60 or 85KWH Battery pack choice, adding to that a BMW made Range Extender ICE engine, working as non-tracting / pure electrical generator, efficient and reliable for only a few usages per year, so this car can also do my far away vacations, in countries where no fast recharge plugs will be readily available before 20 years from now if ever, including trips with 1K Miles per day over 2 x weeks once per year, and be my only car replacing my current beloved 530. Please BMW start working REAL PHEV BMW cars and stop these iGadgets,... or I'll replace my 530da by another Brand than BMW next year. Yet Tesla X is only missing the range Extender. May not last for long before a vendors makes a flavor with one that will become mine as soon as available if I see nothing else than iGadgets from BMW.
        skierpage
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Pat Gatounet
        1. BMW is not Santa Claus and isn't going to give you what you "expect". "The i3 will also be available with an optional two-cylinder motorcycle engine and a generator to extend its range by another 81 miles on a single tank of gasoline." 2. Most BMW drivers are in multi-car households and don't need one car to do everything. 3. Tesla has no plans to ever make a car with a range extender. 4. Nobody is planning a plug-in hybrid SUV with a huge battery pack. It's already a heavy vehicle with two powertrains and a heavy battery pack, so an even heavier and more expensive battery pack makes the car less appealing. Most buyers will be happy to drive a short range electric-only. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is only 12 kW·h, and the VW Cross whatever concepts are less. And no one but Tesla is talking about a choice of battery packs, it's hard enough fitting 10 kW·h into a hybrid platform let alone leaving space for 4-8x as much battery. 5. You're a terrible writer, form proper short sentences that lay out discrete ideas.
      Giza Plateau
      • 1 Year Ago
      Revolution my rear. All that carbon use and zero weight reduction to show for it. It only serves as an excuse to keep the price high enough to make sure it wont be a revolution. They are so predictably douchy and mindless. Uggh. When will someone do it right already.
        Rotation
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        Did you ever stop and think that maybe all the people who actually do this for a living might actually be right and you are the one is wrong? That maybe you are exhibiting Dunning-Kruger and making a BEV light is actually difficult or impossible right now? Just asking.
          Giza Plateau
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          You mean like GM was right when they crushed the EV1? Or when they promoted Hummer instead. Or when they file lawsuits to avoid mileage standards. Yes I have considered it. My metacognition is quite solid and I welcome these people joining this public forum and defending their choices. But they live in their little isolated worlds, never paying attention to public discourse unless it's so big that it's an embarrassment even in their dull eyes. And when it's just me telling the truth and people like you mindlessly attacking me they think they are doing ok. Have you considered that you ask that question out of pettiness and that I could actually be right?
          Cavaron
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          I have to say that BMW really goes for an Apple-Premium-Strategy here... on the other hand - premium is what BMW does. But a cheap, practical EV for the masses would be nice too. Can't imagine that this would not be possible and a viable strategy on the market.
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Giza: Yes, I did consider whether I asked the question out of pettiness. And I don't think I did. You counter with a bunch of answers about business decisions. Where GM made the decision to actually make money. The EV1 lost money, so they dropped it. The Hummer made money, so they promoted it. Now, apply this same thinking to what you are looking at. Did you stop to think that perhaps those who have access to actual engineering info realize you can't make a car as light as you say and still make money off it? You act is if they are incompetent, while it's quite like you're just not well informed. Companies do not set out to do a bad job and yet you act as if not only a few do, but they all are doing so. At some point you have to consider that the likelihood that everyone else is incompetent is much smaller than the likelihood that you are misinformed.
          MTN RANGER
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          I think that BMW knows a little bit about the auto industry and how to make money. Their 2012 profit margin (11.6%) is almost double the competition.
        Ford Future
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        This is a revolution for BMW. With the numbers the dealerships can handle. I guess.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        On the point of energy efficiency the car designers could let us know if the battery can be upgraded to a more powerful battery for longer distance or faster driving. New batteries come along every few years. I don't want to buy a new car just so I can have, or lease a new battery. How will that affect resale values? My oily foot. Carbon use? Do people still post carbon comments on electric car posts? Jeeez Louise.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      Must be pr fluff day, 4sure. I don't care how well you can pat yourself on the back. Gimme specs. Gimme price.
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