What Becomes of BMW’s i-Cars After 2020?

BMW always hinted that the first round of electrified vehicles populating its i sub-brand were developed to dazzle consumers with tech and probe the market’s willingness for EVs. The company is now developing two new models for the group: the iNext crossover and i4 sedan. However, both vehicles are in the midst of development and are likely to take a while to get to market. Furthermore, the brand has said it will use modular architecture kits on all models for at least the next 10 years.

That leaves the i3 and i8 in a slightly awkward position. Launched in 2014, both cars will need to remain relevant over the next few years while BMW preps the next batch of EVs. But the automaker’s continued reliance on flexible platforms that can handle gasoline and/or electric drivetrains isn’t likely to bode well for them in the aftermath. As experiments, neither model is guaranteed to persist far into the 2020s —  at least not as we know them today. 

The i3 is most likely to evolve into an electrified version of the X1 crossover, called the BMW iX1, using the new front-drive FAAR platform. This leaves the automaker open to create an entirely new i3 or simply kill the model off. But if it were to stay on, BMW makes it sound as if the vehicle would be a director competitor to Tesla’s Model 3.

That requires a pretty big leap of faith, though. With the brand overhauling its core platforms to accommodate both electric and internal combustion units, there wouldn’t be much of a reason to make the i3 a unique model. Instead, we’re probably going to see most i-badged vehicles become battery electric or hybridized versions of its core lineup — just with some distinctive bodywork. Things are a little different with the i8, as it was never intended for the masses. But BMW’s head of electric powertrains, Stefan Juraschek, cast further doubt on the models’ future at the New York International Auto Show.

“These cars are very unique,” Juraschek told Automotive News in an interview. “These two cars were not [developed] as a family that we can expand in different [ways] or maybe five or 10 derivatives.”

The iX1 is expected to come out in 2022, which would probably be very near the expiration date for the current i3. In the interim, the electric hatchback can enjoy its 2018 refresh and new sport package. The i8 will also get a mid-cycle update this year, though it seems BMW hasn’t made up its mind on how to handle its future.

Juraschek’s words and BMW’s EV strategy don’t appear to leave much room for the hybrid sports coupe. But BMW Blog claims the manufacturer is currently considering the value of building a successor to the i8. If the model is deemed worthy of a second generation, there are two paths BMW could take. The first involves sticking with the plug-in hybrid setup, while upping the ante in terms of performance and range. But the second would be to make it an all-electric hypercar, something to showcase the dynamic might of EVs at the total expense of practicality.

Regardless, the iNext and i Vision Dynamics-based i4 will come out years before the prospective i8 even has a chance to finish development. We couldn’t imagine anything reaching production before 2023. By that time, the current-gen i8 will be a technological dinosaur and a large portion of the brand’s lineup will be riding on the electrically adaptable FAAR and (rear-drive) CLAR platforms.

[Images: BMW Group]

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