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Monday, March 16, 2015

BMW’s new head of R&D says next i model not due until 2020

Klaus Frohlich, BMW’s new head of R&D, says the company will launch a third BMW i car but it won’t arrive until at least 2020.

“We are still in the strategic research phase where we brainstorm,” BMW Group R&D chief Klaus Froehlich told Automotive News Europe. “Teams that start with a white sheet of paper. They talk with customers, hold workshops, then present their ideas and we decide.”

Froehlich disputed media reports that claimed the third model after the i3 and i8 would be a variant of the X5 premium large SUV. He said the mission of the i subbrand is to change the perception of how a low-emissions car should look and perform, therefore there are no plans to re-package an existing BMW Group model and call it an i model.

Also, he said the i subbrand is supposed to be a starting point for cutting-edge innovation that progressively moves down into the rest of the automaker’s lineup. Current examples include carbon fiber, which is a key part of the i3 and i8 and is moving into other BMWs, and the i8’s plug-in hybrid powertrain, which is being added to high-volume models such as X5, 3 series and 4 series.

BMW will focus on steadily improving the i3 and i8 during the six-plus years until the subbrand’s portfolio grows again.

“We have a minimum 20 percent battery density improvement every three years, thus over the i3 and i8’s life cycle, we will offer more performance, more range or a combination of the two,” Frohlich said.

When asked whether current i3 and i8 owners would be able to switch to the more powerful electrical powertrains Froehlich said: “I don’t think a retrofit makes sense. When better batteries are available, we could then offer models with a longer range or with the same range but at a lower price.”

BMW Ceo Norbert Reithofer, who approved the i project skunkworks that developed the lightweight, low-cost carbon-fiber composites and electric drivetrains for the i3 and i8, will step down in May to be be replaced by Harald Krüger, current head of production. Krüger is known to have a more pragmatic view of electric vehicles than Reithofer.

BMW's previous R&D Chief, Herbert Diess, who oversaw the launch of the i3 and i8, and was thought to be a potential successor for BMW's CEO role was recently poached by Volkswagen to become chairman of VW's passenger car brand.

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