The rather un-BMW program intended to design and develop a new vehicle for city dwellers, Project i, is starting to take shape. Project i is a decidely long-term committment by the German automaker to offer a wide range of options, including electric vehicles, over the next decade. This follows on BMW’s announcement of deep cutbacks on V8 engine production in the coming months and years.
Since September of last year, various media outlets have been speculating that BMW is looking at launching a new generation of ultra-efficient city cars. Last March, BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer announced that the carmaker was planning to establish a new division called ‘Project i,’ whose task would be to develop a number of solutions for congested city motoring. Project i has been designed to run independently of BMW and has been given until the middle of the next decade to develop a concrete solution for the city car. The first issue, of many including whether there may be a two-wheeled “pod” vehicle coming, is whether new vehicles developed under this program will bear the BMW badge or be a part of a completely new brand. Some speculate that this vehicle is a German answer to the Tato Nano minicar, the cheapest car in the world that is priced at about $2,500 and extremely successful in the emerging markets of India and China. BMW executives are quick to point out that in addition to the technological issues of rolling out an upscale concept that would address future environmental issues such as congestion charges , the vehicle must also solve the key problem of safety.
For instance, BMW’s C1, a scooter built for three years through the end of 2002, featured a cage surrounding the driver that let the driver strap themselves in. While the project is only just getting started, BMW will try to address the most basic questions in the next year, such as the vehicle’s size, whether it might be battery or engine-driven and the number of wheels. Once a design is finished and a production model is in place, BMW has said it would be open to cooperating with rivals in developing components such as its engine or battery. Ultimately, BMW confirmed the desire to eventually produce a zero-emissions vehicle for global consumption. While some of the preliminary sketches and concepts are truly gringe-worthy to look at, on a positive note, Ulrich Kranz, who helped develop the Mini, will be the man charged with leading the development team of this new endeavor. While renderings of possible vehicles have obvious BMW styling, it is likely that cars would look radically different from any past BMWs to avoid devaluing the brand.