Groundbreaking, revolutionary changes are afoot as we speak within the automotive industry and the ripples that these changes will create will echo for a very long time. Remember this date: July 29th 2011. Location: Frankfurt, Germany. Topic: BMW i Future Mobility. This is the start of what history will most likely consider to be the first successful application of a zero-emissions platform by an automotive company that succeeded not only as an end product, but via its entire life-cycle from production to eventual upgrade and finally decommission. And it was at the hands of the BMW Group.

I remember as a kid looking through magazines such as Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in the 90’s and reading articles describing, amongst other things, underwater super trains that would travel at insane speeds in a vacuum and connect continental Europe to North America. I recall thinking “man, I wish I could see that.” The recently unveiled BMW i3 and i8 carry a presence, an air of future tech about them that takes me back to when I was a kid, only this time, it is actually happening and taking place right in front of our own eyes. The future of mobility has been officially announced and even better, it exists, will be built and we will see it 2013-2014. No more talking, no more speculating, no more questions. The future is here and we are all witnesses to a major event within the automotive, mobility and sustainability sectors.

“Design revolution.” Many companies from coffee machine makers to shoe manufacturers and car companies use these 2 words to describe their newest additions within their line-up. Many times, this is exaggerated and although changes can be seen, an “evolution” is more the case. With BMW i however, it really is a revolution in all sense of the word. Nothing that we’ve seen so far has even come close. The numbers speak for themselves, and so does the sheet-metal. Or in this case, extensive use of CFRP.

And speaking of the numbers, here are some official figures for the BMW i3 and i8:

BMW i3

BMW i8

With the i3, the goal is to meet the ever-increasing need for mobility in today’s ever expanding, larger and more populated cities and urban areas. However, the aim is to do it efficiently and in a sustainable manner. As such, the i3 is an uncompromisingly sustainable vehicle, driven purely by electric power and purpose-built to meet the demands of sustainable and emissions-free mobility. It is in essence, as Andreas Feist, Head of vehicle project at BMW for the i3 put it “the world’s first premium electric vehicle.”

Whereas the BMW i3 always drives on electric power, the i8 combines the advantages of two different drive systems – an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. As a plug-in hybrid it offers the best of both worlds, combining maximum efficiency with maximum performance as the figures above show. And no that is not a typo, 0 – 62 mph below the 5 second mark at a mind blowing 94 mpg (approx.) with an average real fuel consumption of around 80 mpg. These figures are unrivalled by any conventional internal combustion engine vehicle in this power class. And speaking of power, the total output generated by the 1.5 liter petrol engine which is rear mounted and drives a dual-clutch gearbox coupled with the electric motor delivers the equivalent of 350 hp. With the curb weight at 1,480 kilos or 3,256 pounds, BMW says the i8 will be 0.3 seconds faster than the M3 Coupe.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the BMW i brand philosophy encompasses far more than just the end product. It begins even before the i3 and i8 are constructed.

You might ask yourself “What makes BMW’s approach to the sustainable, efficient and electric arena so special as opposed to other automobile manufacturers?” For starters (no pun intended) BMW i applies a holistic approach that takes into consideration every detail with regards to the i3 and i8 and is conceived and optimized to fulfill its eventual purpose from start to finish. Paramount to its design and what marks it as a cut above the rest is the innovative LifeDrive architecture. Here, we find that BMW i remains true to the sustainability credo by utilizing a certain percentage of recycled and renewable materials for its thermoplastic needs as well as CFRP applications.

Additionally, the man responsible for the bodywork and equipment at project i, Bernhard Dressler added that “The LifeDrive concept avoids the additional weight involved in making the necessary modifications to conversion concepts. At the same time, in both vehicles we have been able to cancel out all of the extra kilos added by the electric motor(s) through the innovative use of materials and intelligent lightweight design.”

For most manufacturers, this would qualify as sustainability and call it a day. For BMW i however, it is only the beginning. The manufacturing process has also been optimized and “green-ified.” As fellow colleague Manny Antunes points out in his latest piece, “BMW’s Future and Sustainability” the manufacturing plant that will produce the i vehicles situated in Leipzig, Germany, will achieve a 70% savings on water consumption and a 50% savings on energy consumption per vehicle produced. Impressed yet? But wait, there’s more. 100% of the energy used in production of the BMW  i vehicles will be renewable and there is even speculation that wind turbines will be built on site to reduce consumption and increase sustainability.

The above figures are impressive to say the least and with the use of CFRP, the weight savings in comparison to a conventional electric car results in a 250 to 350 kilograms which is a whopping 550 – 770 pounds lighter. The result? Increased dynamic handling and extended range. These numbers are also reached thanks to the fact that the i3 and i8 are not standard production cars conceptualized from the start to run on ICE’s, taken off of the production line and THEN converted into electric vehicles. The i3 and i8 were drawn from scratch to be as efficient and as sustainable from the moment the pen hit the paper.

Lastly, aside from the impressive technology and materials found in these vehicles, the extraordinary application of sustainable solutions within the cars themselves and the manufacturing process, BMW i goes a step further and provides us with answers to questions that we didn’t even know we had and solutions to problems we haven’t yet run into. I’m referring to:

Proactive Front Protection:
Offered in both the i3 and i8, the Proactive Front Protection is an active safety system which helps to prevent accidents or mitigate injuries. The system works across the entire speed range and can detect a collision risk with preceding vehicles but also pedestrians. It warns the driver so that he/she can reduce their speed and avoid an accident. This system works via a camera mounted in the base of the rear-view mirror and monitors the traffic in front of the vehicle.

Parking Assistant:
Since the BMW i3 is designed mainly for urban operation, the vehicle offers two further driver assistance systems that address typical urban traffic situations. The Parking Assistant makes parallel parking a breeze by performing the entire parking maneuver automatically. The biggest difference being that in addition to the familiar functions of the Parking Assistant systems of today which simply handle the steering, the Parking Assistant in the i3 also handles longitudinal vehicle control. This means that acceleration and braking is now performed automatically, and if multiple maneuvers are required, the vehicle can also automatically switch between forward and reverse direction.

Traffic Jam Assistant:
Especially in large cities, traffic jams and congestion are now an everyday fact of life. The Traffic Jam Assistant makes driving less stressful under monotonous conditions of this type. By letting the vehicle “go with the flow” it allows the driver to get to his/her destination in a more relaxed state of mind. Like Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, Traffic Jam Assistant maintains a specified following distance from the vehicle in front and in particularly heavy traffic can autonomously control the speed of the vehicle right down to a standstill. The difference, however, is that in this case the vehicle also provides active steering input. Advanced camera technology allows the vehicle to follow the road, based on the road markings, helping the driver to stay on course right up to a speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) provided he keeps at least one hand on the steering wheel. Think iRobot or Minority Report.

BMW i Remote Functions:
Since the seamless integration of smartphones and tablets courtesy of the BMW Connected Drive, these devices can be used to provide access  to certain functions from outside of the vehicle. Connected Drive offers remote vehicle locking or unlocking and remote horn or headlight activation in order to locate the vehicle if it is within sight or earshot of the driver. It also allows the vehicle to be located within a range of up to 1,500 meters using the CarFinder function. In addition, navigation destinations provided by Google Local Search can be sent to the vehicle, where they are then available for on-board use.

In addition to the Connected Drive remote functions, the BMW i3 and i8 also offer new features designed specifically for electric vehicles. These specific e-vehicle functions include remote-controlled charging which allows the user to remote-start the charging process at a time that can be controlled by setting the journey start time as well as remote-controlled thermal preconditioning of the battery pack and vehicle interior. Furthermore, assuming that the user has an appropriate contract with his/her electricity provider, it is also possible to select the type of electricity used, ranging from the greenest to the cheapest type of power.

ECO PRO and ECO PRO + Modes:
Available in both the i3 and i8, ECO PRO mode allows the driver to increase the electric driving range of the vehicle and reduce power consumption at the press of a button. Activating the switch on the center console changes the drive settings and those of the convenience systems for even more efficient operation. This also changes the accelerator response characteristics so that the same pedal travel delivers less power than in the standard mode. Additionally, in the i3, top speed can be capped anywhere between 120 and 90 km/h (74 and 56 mph). At the same time the response curves of the heating and air conditioning system are flattened when ECO PRO mode is activated, so that these systems consume less energy. ECO PRO mode in the BMW i3 can increase the electric driving range by as much as 20%.

If, due to unforeseen circumstances such as prolonged traffic hold-up and the electric driving range is shortened to the point where the driver can no longer be sure of reaching his destination, ECO PRO + mode engages a drive mode which is geared specifically to maximizing the driving range. These measures include careful and intelligent modulation of the air conditioning and heating systems, heated seats and mirrors as well as daytime running lights. Also, if desperately needed, this setting can limit the top speed to 90 km/h (56 mph) however, a special override function can deactivate the speed limiter in an emergency. This mode never acts in a manner as to minimize safety, but rather ensures a perfect balance.

Proactive Energy Management in the BMW i8:
Intelligent navigation functions ensure optimal energy management in the BMW i8 Concept, thereby helping to reduce fuel consumption. As soon as a destination is entered in the navigation system, the vehicle calculates the best way to manage the energy consumption of the two power units along the route. On different sections of the route, the vehicle characteristics can then be modified so that the drive units are managed either for maximum efficiency or for optimal performance.

Navigation by BMW i:
The two navigation modes “Last Mile Navigation” and “Intermodal Route Planning” are designed particularly with urban environments in mind. Last Mile Navigation continues to navigate the driver even after he gets out of the vehicle, by sending instructions to his smartphone which will direct him quickly and reliably on the “last lap”, for example from the car park to the museum entrance. And when the driver is ready to head back, he can quickly locate his parked vehicle using the CarFinder function.

For drivers looking to use their vehicle in conjunction with public transport, Intermodal Route Planning summarizes the various options of getting to a given destination. The aim is to integrate and utilize the synergies between the different modes of transport. This BMW Group system integrates the vehicle, the different modes of local public transport and information about current parking availability. If, for example, the city centre is very busy or closed to car traffic, or if there is disruption on the planned route, the navigation system will in future be able to propose an alternative route by public transport, including use of park and ride services. When entering a destination, drivers can also choose between the fastest or the most environmentally friendly way of getting there. When using electric drive, the Intermodal Route Planning service can also take into account charging stations along the way and also offers drivers the option of taking a route which will optimize the vehicle’s driving range.

BMW i Mobility Services:
BMW i is addressing changing mobility requirements systematically and on various levels. In addition to the vehicles themselves, a further important component of BMW i will be mobility services, which can also include car- independent services. With these services, BMW i will extend the existing range of vehicle-related Connected Drive services significantly. All BMW i products and services are aimed at facilitating and wherever possible simplifying mobility. With its customized mobility solutions, BMW i sees itself as a mobility “enabler”. The focus is on solutions for more efficient use of existing parking space, intelligent navigation systems incorporating location-based information, Intermodal Route Planning and premium car-sharing. BMW i’s integrated approach to mobility is aimed at providing customers with services that perfectly match their requirements.

“In the future, the definition of premium quality will also come to include sustainability and we (BMW) are on a clear path to sustainable mobility.” Dr. Norbert Reithofer, Chairman of the Board of Management BMW Group.

I firmly believe that for a radical change to truly happen and take place, the kind of change that results in the genesis of a new era, there always must be that someone who makes that first step. It can come from 1 single person, a company or a nation. People who take calculated risks and are not afraid of stepping outside of what the rest of the world perceives as normal behavior, be it global climate (both in the literal sense as well as political), consumers or competition. As we can clearly see from all of the above mentioned, BMW i has a grand vision. Programs have been created, solutions have been developed and the stage has been set. It is a total package solution that extends far beyond the mere purchase of a vehicle. It enters the services arena and not many automotive companies can claim this.

Leading is never easy and innovation, especially that which breaks away from traditional sources of energy and mobility will surely ignite strong feelings,  both positive and negative from manufacturers to suppliers and the end user. As the leader in this field, BMW i is at the forefront of hybrid development and intelligent sustainable designs. As such, there is no point of reference, only original creations. This is a scary thought for many companies but not BMW i. This is the price that one must pay when pioneering the future of mobility.

Let it be known today that I, James Bachici have seen the future and yes, it makes me feel giddy with anticipation and excitement. I feel as though I’m a kid again reading about the extraordinary, only this time I don’t have to wait. It’s already here.

Until next time, Happy Motoring!

For more information about CFRP, BMW i and other related topics, check out Editorial: Carbon Future