Editorial: The i Brand – Is This the Future of BMW?

BMW i, Featured Posts | July 27th, 2011 by 9

Sometime in September (at the Frankfurt Auto Show presumably) BMW will unveil it’s new i3. While it has already teased journalists and BMW fanatics with …

Sometime in September (at the Frankfurt Auto Show presumably) BMW will unveil it’s new i3. While it has already teased journalists and BMW fanatics with glimpses-of and rides-in the i8, it’s the i3 that will be produced in appreciable volumes. And that means the i3 is the car we should be focused on.

At the FIZ in April, I had a chance to see up close an i3 chassis and looking at it prompted a number of questions that I’ve yet to have answered. During Innovation Day an entire segment of the event was devoted to the electrification of BMW. We saw that BMW is building their own electric motors and control systems as well as partnering with SB LiMotive for batteries. But what do those motors and batteries translate to in real world acceleration numbers and range.

But there are a number of puzzling pieces to the ‘i’ brand. We don’t know the capacity of their assembly facility for the carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell (back of the envelope calculations say they need about 125 to 150 units a day to reach an annual 30,000 unit production target for the i3). Will the carbon fiber come from Moses Lake (from the SGL Group) as pre-preg or will it pick up its epoxy resin in Landshut (if that’s where BMW will be producing the passenger cells; if not, possibly Leipzig)?

And then there’s the actual process of building the passenger cells. How will they reduce scrap? Can they reuse the vacuum bags needed to keep air bubbles from forming when the material is subjected to the autoclave (heat and pressure)? Will it be as hands-on labor intensive as other CFRP manufacturers have found? And what will that do to the cost?

There are another whole set of questions regarding the batteries. BMW has stated that they do not want to join in a ‘common battery’ alliance (which treats the battery pack as a plug replaceable unit – reducing ‘refueling’ times at service stations) because there is a good chance that the state of the art in battery technology will make tremendous
leaps in the near future. What does BMW see in the near future that is a good candidate to replace lithium ion?

Then there is the question of how of you get carbon fiber repaired after an accident. Is there an infrastructure in place to accomplish that? With the chassis a mix of cast, sheet, and extruded aluminum, who gets to fix that?

And perhaps the biggest question of all. Even though the 30,000 number that’s been thrown around in regards to total i3 production represents about 2% of BMW’s current automotive production, does the ‘i’ brand represent much more to BMW’s future?

Stay tuned, we hope to be able to answer some of these questions as more and more of BMW’s ‘i’ brand is revealed. In the interim, here is a sample of some of BMWBLOG’s previous reporting on ‘i’ and its technology:

  • M3power

    I think the i brand could be a complement to the existing models, but I don’t see the i brand actually replacing the existing 3,5,7 series etc. Assuming BMW has worked out the assemby and quality control issues with their CFRP or electric motors, it may actually help the existing models to lighten up (and reverse or at least stop the “getting heavier” by each generation trend) and improve some fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance and handling.

    The bigger question is how the i brand will be marketed. Will it dilute the performance-orientated image of BMW?

    • Hugo Becker

      Actually I’m thinking about 20 years down the road. You’re absolutely correct they cannot displace the IC cars in the near future – but long term . . . 

      We’ll have to see if they can remain driver’s cars – I would love to get my hands on an i3 for an extended test drive.

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  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t think we need to wait until the IAA in September.  BMW will be having a press conference this friday, the 29th @ 12:00pm CEST.

  • JohnJay

    BMW has a video up on Youtube showcasing how they make their CFRP parts.

    Basically, there are no vacuum bags, no autoclave.  The parts are cured in what is essentially a heated die that is providing the necessary pressure.