The BMW iNext electric crossover features Level 3 autonomy, but will it be too little too late by the time it launches in 2021?
Remember the fantastically futuristic BMW Vision Next 100 with its flexible skin? BMW has announced it intends to put it into production in 2021 to expand its i-sub brand of electric cars. Sadly, the production iNext probably won't look as radical as the original concept. BMW is targeting the mainstream market, which is why the flagship BMW iNext will be a fully autonomous electric crossover. BMW describes the iNext as a "larger BMW i vehicle," but BMW Blog reports that inside sources are claiming the size and shape is similar to the Jaguar I-Pace.
BMW has announced that the iNext will be manufactured at the Dingolfing plant, located near BMW's main headquarters in Munich, which is where the 5 and 7 Series are currently built. Featuring Level 3 autonomy, BMW says the iNext will set the "benchmark" for automated driving, electrification and connectivity. Level 3 autonomy allows the car to drive itself in most scenarios, but still requires a human behind the wheel ready to intervene as a fallback. After a year, BMW intends to release a new model with Level 4 autonomy, and could even support Level 5 autonomy which would negate the need for a steering wheel.
Currently, autonomous cars only support Level 2 autonomy, which would make the BMW iNext the most advanced autonomous car on the road. The problem, though, is that BMW isn't the only manufacturer looking to set a new self-driving "benchmark." Audi claims the next A8 will have Level 3 autonomy in 2018, while Tesla has ambitions to unleash fully-autonomous cars as early as 2019. This is all dependent on regulations, of course. BMW also claims the iNext will feature "a new and future-oriented interior and the most modern networking technologies," and will utilize advanced lightweight materials and manufacturing techniques.
BMW is on track to sell 100,000 electric vehicles in 2017, and will continue to expand its EV lineup with an i8 Roadster in 2018, followed by an electric Mini in 2019 and an electric X3 in 2020. While it makes sense for BMW to cash in on the demand for electric crossovers, the iNext is going to have to be something special to compete with the Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes Generation EQ SUV, not to mention the Tesla Model X.