Tesla is getting some stiff competition.
BMW is no stranger to all-electric cars. The BMW i3 has now been in production since 2013 as a tiny five-door hatchback, but the German automaker has been developing electric vehicles as far back as 1969. The first all-electric BMW appeared at the 1972 Munich Olympics as support vehicles. Two orange BMW 1602 cars were converted to run on batteries so marathon runners wouldn't breathe in fumes from an internal combustion engine. They even had a rudimentary braking regeneration system.
Since then, BMW has toyed with electrifying the 3 Series, but its first purpose-built electric car was the E1 in 1991, and 450 found their way onto the road. Here in 2020, electric vehicles have a charging network in place, and the battery and drivetrain technology has improved drastically. That means its time for BMW to bring a larger all-electric vehicle to market. The BMW i4 will be a sleek four-door sedan boasting the style and power people are starting to demand from electric cars in the 21st century, and is set to take the fight straight to the Tesla Model 3.
The 2021 BMW i4 will arrive with a long wheelbase, a fastback roofline, and four-doors in the Gran Coupe style of the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. The large closed off-kidney grille dominates the styling but isn't entirely useless despite there being no gas engine to cool. Instead, the grille acts as an "intelligence panel" and houses various sensors. Mounted either side are slender, sharp, LED headlights, and vertical air inlets, presumably to cool the brakes and improve aerodynamics. On the back and following the sweeping B pillars are sharp and slim L-shaped taillights and vertical air outlets. For the concept, at least, BMW has highlighted the rear diffuser elements so as not to upset eyes that are used to seeing exhaust outlets there.
Providing the drive for the BMW i4 is a single electric motor delivering 530 horsepower, around the same as a BMW built gas-powered V8. That's fed by an 80-kWh battery that weighs just 1,212 lbs, and BMW claims the all-electric four will accelerate from 0-62 mph in four seconds. However, BMW has a long habit of understating power and performance. As the Model S has been seen hitting 60 mph in under 4 seconds and the i4 boasts more power and likely comparable overall weight, we wouldn't be surprised if the i4 turns out to be quicker. It's also incredibly likely that the i4 will be made available with a rear-wheel and an all-wheel-drive powertrain, which will make for variable 0-60 mph times.
Whether people want an electric vehicle to make a noise or not comes down to taste. Rather than reproduce the sound of a gas engine soundtrack, BMW's Sound Designer, Renzo Vitale, and renowned composer Hans Zimmer have worked together to come up with a sound specific to the i4. According to BMW, it will give the driver and passengers a "sense of lightness and transparency." The sound will also change according to the drive mode and, for example, soften when in Efficient mode and get more intense in Sport mode.
The i4 Concept's interior looks rich and intricate with its white leather upholstery, light wood trim, and rose gold embellishment. We don't expect it to be quite so ornate for production, with something similar to the current BMW Series interior more likely. If the i4 Concept's cabin is anything to go by, and because of the expectations set on premium level electric vehicles, we expect the i4 to be full of tech to be accessed by a large touchscreen infotainment system. We may not see the i4 Concept's curved display and the next generation of BMW's operating system, though. BMW will want to make sure it's first mass-market electric sedan is as close to bulletproof as possible, so debuting it with a brand new system is unlikely.
BMW is claiming 372 miles on a full charge, but based on the European WLTP rating rather than the US's EPA estimates. The Model 3 Standard Range is EPA estimated for 220 miles, the Standard Range Plus for 250 miles, but it's the Model 3 Long Range and Performance that boasts over 300 miles on a full charge. If BMW can crack 300 miles on its base model, that's going to be a huge plus point in both practicality and advertising standpoints. The i4 will also have a 150-kilowatt charging capacity so it can get up to 80 percent of its range in just 35 minutes.
In 2018, BMW's previous CEO, Harald Kruger, said that "If you want to win the race, you must be the most cost-competitive in the segment," when it comes to electric vehicles. A little earlier, a BMW board member pointed out that "In EVs with 90- to 100-kWh battery packs, the cell cost alone will be $17,000 to $25,000. You can produce whole cars only with the cost of the battery."
Competitive in this segment would be hitting just under $40,000 for the base model, something Tesla has only just managed with the Model 3. BMW understands that scaling up production is key, and we're expecting the i4 to come out of the gate at around $40,000.
Something that holds many back from investigating in an electric car is the thought of having to replace the battery system later down the line. How much it actually costs to replace a battery in an electric car is quite hard to quantify as warranties tend to take it into account, and battery packs tend to be designed to last somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 miles. According to Elon Musk, it will cost between $3,000 and $7,500 to replace a Model 3's battery out of warranty. That's still a chunk of change, and reports say BMW is looking to warranty for 100,000 miles or eight years on electric components. On top of that should be a more limited warranty of 50,000 miles or four years on other parts. There's also talk of free maintenance for 36,000 miles or three years, which should work out nicely for BMW over gas engined cars that need more maintenance.
Like anyone planning to debut a vehicle at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show, the coronavirus outbreak has put paid to the public seeing the i4 in the metal so far. Currently, production is planned to start in 2021 at BMW's main plant in Munich. According to BMW, around 90 percent of the plant's existing production equipment in the body shop is adaptable to build the i4, and the rest is being specifically built to construct the Gran Coupe.