BMW i Brand Takes Shape With i3 and i8 Concept Premieres

The automaker unveils two sustainable vehicle concepts aimed at the urban commuting and sports car markets.

BMW i, the automakers forthcoming sustainable mobility division took another step closer to reality today when the company debuted two electric concept vehicles. If you think both of these vehicles look a little familiar, you are right. The BMW i3 Concept used to be called the Megacity Vehicle. The i8 Concept first appeared back in 2009 as the Vision Efficient Dynamics Concept. Now for the first time, we get to see both vehicles at a stage which looks closer to production.

With both concepts, BMW has taken a look at improving the way electric drive is integrated into the vehicle’s design. They are calling this approach LifeDrive and in essence it separates the vehicle into two different modules. Suspension, batteries, drive system and the structure of the vehicle make up the Drive module. The passenger cabin, called the Life module is constructed from lightweight carbon fibre-reinforced plastic and takes engineering inspiration from the cockpit of a Formula One race car. Rather than ‘converting’ a vehicle designed to accept a combustion engine, BMW says LifeDrive architecture makes better use of space and creates a more open interior. Keeping the mass of the Life module lightweight aids in getting more driving range out of the vehicle and improves performance.

BMW challenged their designers to develop a unique signature shape language for the i Concept models. The aim was to create a visual representation of innovative technology and translate lightness, safety and efficiency characteristics into the design. Both concepts employ a technique of ‘layering’ surfaces. In some areas, the LifeDrive modules are left exposed. Expressive color-coded body panels give the impression of a lightweight yet strong outer shell.

BMW is defining the i3 as ‘an uncompromisingly sustainable vehicle designed for urban areas’. The vehicle is driven purely by electric power. Customers will be able to monitor and access functions of the i3 via a smart-phone app. Users can locate charging stations, allow battery charging and preconditioning as well as review diagnostic and status information about the vehicle. The BMW i Ventures and MyCItyWay partnership might add a parking locator and public transport information to the apps functionality.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the i8 Concept, a sustainable contemporary sports car. The i8 is a plug-in hybrid which uses a modified electric drive from the i3 paired with a high-performance three-cylinder combustion engine. Both drive systems work in tandem allowing the i8 to accelerate from 0-60 in under five seconds and reach a top speed of 155mph (factory limited). With the two drive systems in the i8, engineers positioned one over each axle and located the battery pack in a low spot in the center of the vehicle. This resulted in a balanced weight distribution which provides for better handling and performance. The first 20 miles of travel in the i8 Concept can be done on electric power alone.

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