Searching for the Meaning of BMW’s i Brand
According to BMW, the upcoming i3 all-electric car is about more than just electrification. BMW’s surveys of 700 “Electronauts,” the company’s name for people who leased the Active E all-electric test vehicle, showed that sustainability matters. Of the 113 who responded, 85 percent either agreed, strongly agreed, or extremely agreed that renewable energy was important, Dr. Simon Ellgas, senior advanced technology engineer at BMW’s technology office in Silicon Valley, told PluginCars.com. But the question remains: does that justify creating a whole brand to sell the “i” cars?
The question becomes increasingly relevant, because it looks like BMW will offer plug-in electric cars across all its product lines. Peter Wolf, BMW head of production for larger vehicles, last month told Autocar that BMW is planning a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or EV for “each and every model series.” Won’t many of the innovative materials, design and engineering developed for the i series be incorporated, at least to some extent, into BMW’s other vehicles as well?
I put that question to BMW and was not entirely satisfied with the answer. “BMW i includes 360 Electric which is a portfolio of technologies and services tailored to make the best possible use of the advantages of electro-mobility while simultaneously providing our customers with the flexibility they expect from a BMW,” said Julian Arguelles, the spokesperson for product and technology at BMW North America.
I'm not sure what that means, but if the technology in the i series is so cool why not use it in the third generation Mini, which will include a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle option, according to BMW? In that case, will the Mini become a Mini i?
Perhaps the i vehicles will offer higher performance. That is the i8’s distinguishing characteristic, Arguelles told PluginCars. “The BMW i8 was also designed from the ground up as a high performance plug-in electric vehicle, and it is also significantly more efficient than an equivalent converted internal combustion-only vehicle,” he said.
So is there a market for the i series, and will consumers understand the distinction between the brands? BMW thinks so, “based on the experience gained during the Mini E and BMW Active E projects, as well as several years of mobility research in mega cities,” said Arguelles.
Let’s see, 700 Active E and about 500 Mini E vehicles. Not a huge test group. At the end of the day, perhaps the i series is just a bunch of cool niche cars that BMW is willing to spend money on as it develops its electric car technology—that is, EV technology that will find its way to existing higher-volume BMW models. If that is the case, spend away!
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