BMW is serious about building driverless cars as quickly as possible.
When BMW product management boss Peter Henrich mentioned that the i8's successor would be a model that causes as much upheaval as the original did upon its 2014 release, we thought he meant we'd get an all-electric coupe and roadster to challenge the Tesla Roadster. That may still be the case, but BMW Blog, citing a conference call concerning BMW Group's Q1 results, claims that we should also be expecting a fully autonomous vehicle from BMW to debut in 2021.
The pilot car for BMW's autonomous program will be none other than the production version of the iNEXT Concept, which we first became acquainted with during a reveal event held inside a Boeing 777.
Details about the rollout are limited to numbers and, more excitingly or concerningly, to the levels of autonomy these vehicles will operate at. "In 2021, we will put a pilot fleet of 500 BMW iNEXT vehicles with Level 4 and 5 functionality on the roads," said Krueger. "The necessary technical requirements and changes to international regulations and liability laws are currently in progress."
If you need a refresher, Level 4 autonomy means that a car can drive itself from point to point within a certain area, like a city, with zero need for human intervention. Level 5 means that no human driver is needed at all, even if the vehicle is off-roading. What Krueger is saying is that BMW is confident enough in its autonomous technology that it's just waiting for regulators to take restrictions away.
He also explained how this will impact BMW's customers, saying, "What this means for customers is: A completely new experience of mobility and everyday driving qualities, with an electric range of more than 600 kilometers." Despite the iNEXT's electric drivetrain, which offers serious performance including a 0-60 mph time under four seconds, the highlight of the pilot program will be BMW's autonomous technology rather than its electric drivetrains.
Currently, the automaker is getting the hardware needed to run its autonomous systems through Mobileye, but a recent collaboration with Daimler to work on self-driving technology should mean we'll see a new self-driving platform from BMW (and likely Mercedes) in 2024. Given the picture BMW is painting with its iNEXT announcement and the fact some US states are moving to fully legalize driverless cars, it looks like it's only a matter of time before we see iNEXTs driving themselves on public roads. We just wish BMW hadn't made the car look so darned hideous.