BMW’s i brand is a bold step for a German automaker which, until the arrival of Chris Bangle, had a history of playing it safe. All of that changed under Bangle’s watch, and now we’re seeing even more forward looking progression emerge from the Bavarian car company with an all new brand dedicated to sustainable transportation.
Clearly BMW’s done its homework. Not wanting to jump headfirst onto the eco-friendly mobility wagon, the company has dedicated years of research into developing this new product — efforts that stem back to when Bangle was still head of design. The cars not only showcase the automaker’s foray into the electric vehicle sector but also an entirely new form language.
We had occasion to catch up with BMW Group’s design director adrian van Hooydonk at the recent LA auto show, where we spoke to him about the new i3 and the i8 concepts that were being unveiled. Here is a transcript of that interview:
What’s different about these i-brand concepts and the ones we have seen before?
“Here in LA we’re not only showing the i3 Concept Coupe but also the open version of the i8. These represent our latest show cars in regards to the i brand. With this generation of show cars we’re taking you even closer to their production shape and form.
“What you see here is about 90 percent of what you’re going to get next year when these cars reach production.”
What has been the highlight in creating this new brand and these designs?
“Obviously as one of the creators of these cars there’s a lot about them that I love.
The fact that we’re going about this new type of mobility in creating a new brand and creating a new form language altogether is very exciting for us. And the form language that we have created I believe showcases the fact that these cars will be fun to drive — there is emotion in electric mobility, in new mobility, plug-in hybrids and such. But having said that, the shape of the form language is also very, very clean.
“The form language communicates the fact that these cars are extremely light. We use carbon fiber in the structure of these vehicles, which no car company has done up until this point in large volume production.
“All of these things are very radical. It’s a new an way of building cars and with that we feel it fits with a very forward-looking type of design, a very futuristic looking type of design.
“[The i3] is our idea for the city car the future and the i8 sitting right next to it is our idea for sports car of the future. Both of these vehicles will actually see the light of day and hit the streets in very much this type of shape.”
BMW has opened a new factory in Washington to produce carbon fiber. How will the material then be incorporated into these cars?
“The carbon fiber for the i products is indeed made in Moses Lake, here in the United States. Those fibers are then shipped to Germany where they get woven in a BMW factory to get the structural aspect just right and then these mats are being pressed into the shape that we need to make the cell or the chassis of these two vehicles.
“All that carbon fiber is sourced from this factory here in the United States and that BMW is in a joint venture with [SGL Group].”
Can you tell us a bit about the sustainability aspect of the i-brand products?
“Sustainability in our minds needs to go more than than just skin deep in these kinds of vehicles. Once you have reached and the zero-emission with a car, then probably customers will want to know: How much energy did you use in making this car? And what type of materials are you using in the car?
“All the materials that we are using in and i brand have been developed with sustainability in mind. That basically means that where we use leather we use it in a way that that there are no chemicals needed in coloring the leather. We use fabrics that are recyclable or materials that have been recycled.
“So the story about sustainability actually goes through and through these products, and with that we might be able to set new standards in the automotive industry.”