If you’ve been touting your vehicles as the Ultimate Driving Machine for decades, how do you prepare your company and its customers for a future of self-driving cars? For BMW, the answer is the i Next, which will become the autonomous flagship vehicle for German luxury performance automaker’s EV-centric i Brand.
CEO Harald Krueger confirmed production of the i Next at an annual shareholders meeting last week. “It is always better to make a decision than to wait,” Krueger said in a statement. While confirming that BMW will launch the new i8 Roadster in 2018, Krueger added, “This will be followed in 2021 by the BMW i Next, our new innovation driver, with autonomous driving, digital connectivity, intelligent lightweight design, a totally new interior and ultimately bringing the next generation of electro-mobility to the road.”
BMW hasn’t yet shown images of the i Next. But in March at a celebration of the Munich-based automaker’s 100-year anniversary, BMW unveiled its futuristic Vision Next 100 that features a steering wheel that folds away when the car is switched to an autonomous “Ease” mode.
In addition, the seats and door trim merge, allowing the driver and passengers to face one another as the car takes control. A windshield-wide head-up display also switches to provide personalized and cloud-connected infotainment content, while augmented displays add details to the passing scenery.
The Vision Next 100 also has a driver-centric “Boost” mode in which the steering wheel reappears, the seats rotate to face forward and the center console angles toward the driver. “In Boost, the entire vehicle focuses on the driver, offering the support needed to maximize the driving experience – for instance by indicating the ideal driving line, steering point and speed,” BMW said in a statement.
But it’s the exterior of the Vision Next 100 that really sets it apart – and could indicate an evolution of the radical design direction that BMW began with the i3 and i8. One of the most visually striking aspect of the Vision Next 100, for example, are wheels that appear to seamlessly blend into the car’s fender skirts. The wheels are actually hidden beneath an intelligent mesh of triangles that shift and change the shape of the body as the wheels turn to help cut down the car’s drag coefficient.