Arguably the most future-relevant concept at the LA show was the BMW i3 Coupe. For those starting to suffer fatigue waiting for the exciting electric i production cars to go on sale, scrutiny of the i3 Coupe reassures there is light at the end of the tunnel. BMW Group design boss Adrian van Hooydonk took time out for an exclusive chat with Car Design News and revealed that the Coupe – which shares almost exactly the same proportions as the previous five-door concept – is now 90 per cent of the production version due to launch at Frankfurt autumn 2012.
The most obvious change is in the more production-feasible non-glass lower door area and in a refinement of the interior, but key signifiers like the teardrop style upper DLO with its dropped rear belt line will stay as will the sophisticated vision-enhancing slatted C-pillar. As Hooydonk reasons: “We like a bit of wedge and a rakish shape that makes the car look dynamic but often rear passengers are smaller, they are kids, and you can’t look out properly if you continue that belt line. So we felt for an urban vehicle, all-round visibility for all passengers was a good thing. The C-pillar design has no typical Hofmeister kink either, we didn’t think it was necessary to carry over all elements of BMW design for this car.”
According to Hooydonk the clean and spacious cabin with minimal IP will stay virtually intact for production too, so expect the gear selector on the steering wheel, twin free-standing iPad Mini-style screens and unusual materials all to stay. One particularly interesting material – made out of grass, dried and pressed – can be found as the structure and surface of the inner door panel. “Usually when car companies use this kind of material they cover it in three layers of plastic,” says Hooydonk, but we thought for a car like this, it would be more honest to show it. The whole look and feel of the material – with some fibres visible – reminded us of the first Eames fibreglass chairs. The material grows in nature very quickly so it’s sustainable. All this leads to an aesthetic we’re calling ‘next premium’ although there will still be wood and leather where you need it.”
Along with exposed carbon fibre on the door sills and elsewhere to remind the customer of the i3’s high-tech body structure and graphically clean and sparse all-LED red lights embedded behind the black glass tailgate, the new i3 looks set to stand out like no other electric car currently available.
As BMW wants this car to sell in decent numbers – and to hedge its bets on what technology may be most embraced by customers soonest – the car will initially be offered in both plug-in range extender and full EV options, with the firm expecting 80 per cent of sales to be of the former, less range-anxious model. The supercar i8 will launch in the first quarter of 2014 but there is no word yet whether a three-door i3 will follow.
By Guy Bird