BMW i Division To Focus On Self-Driving Tech, Not EVs, In An Attempt To Catch Up To Tesla


BMW i3 and i8

BMW i3 and i8

BMW is changing its strategy and goals for its BMW i sub-brand according to Reuters, who spoke with BMW board member Klaus Froehlich.

The BMW i will now be more about autonomous driving in the future than all-electric cars.  Which means more plug-ins, no BEVs on the near-term horizon.

One of the first models, the BMW iNext Concept was already confirmed for production in 2021.

“BMW (BMWG.DE) has transformed its “i” division into a development center for self-driving cars, a board member told Reuters, a major strategic shift for the unit previously focused on making a family of lightweight electric vehicles.”

“Now, rather than seeking to match the likes of Tesla and Porsche with a new zero-emissions sports limousine for release within the next two years, its main focus will be on developing an electric car with the next generation of technology: autonomous driving.”

According to the article BMW i3 failed expectations with “only 25,000 sales last year“, whereas the Tesla Model 3 already received close to 400,000 reservations, and will have at least some autonomous driving capabilities.

Some of the high-profile staff BMW i, departed from the coampny in the last couple of months.

“The revamp also follows at least four high-profile staff defections from the division this year. Dirk Abendroth, manager of BMW’s “i” powertrain group, Henrik Wenders, vice president product management BMW “i”, and Carsten Breitfeld, vice president engineering, head of the i8 vehicle program, were poached by a Chinese electric vehicle startup.”

“As part of its autonomous driving push, BMW is hiring experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence. It is also integrating the functions of existing computer driven assistance systems like cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keeping support and automatic parking.”

Bonus video: BMWL Human or Robot – who will control our future vehicles? 

“Werner Huber, Manager Highly Automated Driving at BMW Group, explains studies regarding BMW and autonomous driving. The question for BMW is always: How far can we go and how far should we go with automation regarding the promise “sheer driving pleasure”.”

source: Reuters (updated Reuters story here)

Category: BMW, Tesla

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33 responses to "BMW i Division To Focus On Self-Driving Tech, Not EVs, In An Attempt To Catch Up To Tesla"
  1. offib says:

    Could be a recipe for some sort of disaster.

    This is implying that BMW can’t handle both like Tesla.

    1. EVcarnut says:

      Yea , That boat has Sailed …

    2. MDEV says:

      Or they still don’t believe in EVs.

  2. suresh says:

    they don’t make batteries. so it makes sense for them to invest in autonomy and light weight materials.

  3. jednoucelovy says:

    BMW is in a spasm. I wonder what those managers take their salaries for. Can they see no further than the end of their nose?

  4. georges says:

    This is totally expected. It’s obvious we can’t count on a serious EV effort from the traditional auto makers. Tesla, Apple, maybe google and maybe FF but not GM, Ford, Chrysler and BMW.

    If you are in the market for an EV give your money to a company that actually wants to make a successful model out of selling EV’s.

    Tom this means you. Give up on BMW.

    1. Tom Moloughney says:

      I’m not giving up on anybody, georges. It still surprises me (although it shouldn’t by now) when we get reactions from random news outlets. I remember back when the i3 & i8 were in development and a story came out from someone with supposed connections high within BMW how they has cancelled the entire i division and there wasn’t going to be an i3 or i8. Everybody shared the story and many people believed it.

      BMW, along with all of the other OEMs have been working hard on autonomous driving features for a long time now. They have thousands of engineers over in Munich and here in the US. They don’t certainly do more than two things at once.

      Support from the entrenched OEMs is absolutely needed in the push for the advancement of electric vehicles, Tesla cannot do it alone, and quite frankly, there’s no guarantee Tesla will even survive.

      1. RexxSee says:

        The change came from new companies 110 years ago, not from established carriage companies.
        They all say electric is far away, it don’t work well, and refuse to adapt because they want to preserve their own huge markets and “expertise”… until it’s too late…

      2. georges says:

        I think you know I’ve been around along time and was a big GM fan. GM, BMW and all the legacy car companies have little interest in making this stand as an independent enterprise—-ie selling electric cars. They make their money on gas cars. They need to report profits and profits are maximised by sending gas cars down the line. It is simple economics….can you blame them??

        Of course not. GM can out engineer Tesla in a moment and I have no doubt that the Germans are capable as well but upper management always needs to sell the most profitable car. ie a gas car.

        Quit giving your money to a car company that is only doing it because they have to.

        1. Rick Danger says:


    2. Nathanael says:

      Serious competitors to Tesla: BYD, BAIC (Beijing Auto), Geely.

      Maybe Kandi, Zotye, JAC, Chery, Zhidou

      (Source of my guesses: Chinaautoweb dot com)

  5. SparkEV says:

    So BMW thinks it failed at making EV so they’re going to try to fail at making autonomous tech? Software looks so easy until you actually try to make it work, especially in market place (don’t ask me how I know; I want to forget).

  6. David Murray says:

    Well, I’m not sure how true the story is. But I think it has been obvious for a while now that PHEVs make more business sense than pure electrics. Ford has shown that with it’s Energi lines. They barely put any effort into them, most of the car is shared with the gasoline version. So that is better economies of scale, and less risk. And they seem to sell just about as well as dedicated platforms that other manufacturers have done.

    In fact, BMW’s very own X5 PHEV is selling almost as well as their i3.

    I think the i3’s biggest weakness has been the short range. For a car in that price range, it should have more range than a Leaf. I guess we’ll see how the new version sells later this year.

    1. Terawatt says:

      What is tragic is that the regulator doesn’t then change market conditions so that it becomes profitable for manufacturers and drivers/consumers to DO WHAT IS MOST PROFITABLE FOR SOCIETY/MANKIND.

      It could be that Ford is taking a huge political risk. Carbon taxes and other sensible moves to make the price of fossil fuels better reflect their true cost could kill off ICE in a hurry, if governments gave a damn about whose interests they are supposed to represent.

      Sadly, Fords bet is probably bang on. By doing almost NOTHING AT ALL they truly demonstrate how little is actually required from regulators. Never mind that we committed to cutting emissions by 80% relative to 1990 levels, and that emissions have increased some 20% since then. Transportation is just about THE easiest place to cut where we have the technology and it is simply a matter of putting the regs in place. And still we do almost NOTHING. It is as if we have decades to waste, it’s not urgent at all – when the reality is we should have begun decades AGO and will suffer huge consequences for perhaps a thousand years because of our failure to act sooner. And it’s getting worse with every passing week!

      So by all means, celebrate the cleverness of Ford! Who cares if we fuck a hundred generations to come – Ford after all showed us how to best protect profits in the extremely short term. (Even Ford, in the end, gains something from there being an environment in which to have a business.)

      1. SparkEV says:

        Such negativity and fear mongering! Technology marches on, and electric is the future. Whether that’s today or a year from now, no one knows for certain. What is certain is the inevitability.

        Imagine if there’s energy breakthrough today (ie, cheaper than fossil fuel). That will most likely be electric. Then all these fossil fuel industry will dump fossil fuel in favor of new tech to make more money (cheaper!) IF they can. Then the guys who had invested in the future (ie, EV guys) will be well positioned to take the lead/succeed. Same argument can be made about battery tech.

        Now the idiots at Ford, Fiat, etc. are just shooting their future if they don’t invest now. Frankly, I could care less if they go belly up when new tech arrives.

        1. Nathanael says:

          The fossil fuel industry is actually doubling down on its dead-end. They absolutely refuse to redirect the money to the much more profitable solar and wind power arenas. Go figure.

  7. agzand says:

    I think it makes sense. Making an autonomous car is much harder than making an EV. That is where the R&D should be spent.

    1. Terawatt says:

      Obviously. Though it should be an EV as well – as they clearly state (“ELECTRIC car with autonomous driving” – my emphasis).

  8. pjwood1 says:

    -Maybe eating German incentives, locally, is causing some of this

    -Goodbye BMW commitment to DCFC

    Love the selective reasoning: “According to the article BMW i3 failed expectations with “only 25,000 sales last year“, whereas the Tesla Model 3 already received close to 400,000 reservations, and will have at least some autonomous driving capabilities.”

    I bet range, tires, inoperable rear windows and maybe looks also had something to do with it. Mabye?

    BMW also has that unique REx/BEV feedback from the i3, which may suggest BEV die-hards aren’t as many in the real world as we might find here on Inside EVs.

    1. beta995 says:

      First off, the i3 is mis-named.
      It’s an i2, or an i1. It certainly does not replace the BMW 3 series. Whereas, Tesla’s Model 3, does.

      Really, BMW, you priced the i3 now at $50,000 US dollars, to get what should be standard. How many cars this size, at this price point, would EVER sell more than 25,000 units a year?

      The i3 is GREAT at what it is, but your own sales data show you most buyers are NEW to BMW. So, your not converting many 3 Series buyers to the i3.

      The i3 is the perfect city/country/commuter car to go with your solar, high efficiency home. It’s a commuter/sports car, it should be clobbering sales of the Mazda Miata.

      But, look the TESLA 3 series looks like a 5 passenger Porsche. And it’s built for highway cruising. You didn’t build that kind of car.

  9. kdawg says:

    Is Frank Weber still at BMW, and if so, what’s he doing?

  10. beta995 says:

    The i3 needs to compete with the Tesla AI. That’s what was discussed in the board room, if you ask me. The i3/i5/i8 need the same kind of autonomous driving you’ll find in Leader Tesla. They know that’s a weak spot, and they’re going to address it.

    That shouldn’t mean their “refocusing” anything.

  11. MatteM3 says:

    Usable Level 4 autonomy will not happen until a car can talk to the other cars around it, the road, the cloud and to all of its cars component subsystems. And all these are not going to happen until long long time.

    They should ateast focus on making good PHEVs with 60+ range.

  12. carcus says:

    I’m not surprised BMW (and possibly Mercedes) are hitting the “autonomy panic button”.

    When I dream of a Model 3 ….. I think of the autonomous tech much more than the electric drive. Tesla, AFAIK, is the only company who’s automobiles are “self learning” — delivering scads of information back to headquarters — helping to rapidly and continually develop “the next step” in automated driving.

    If Tesla were to gain a big enough technology lead, they could gobble up market share much like Apple did with the iPhone (which was, for quite some time, one to two years ahead of the competition) . BMW and Mercedes can’t afford to let Tesla develop an “iPhone jump” on autonomous driving.

  13. Terawatt says:

    Yet again the headline appears to be some extremely speculative interpretation of what was actually said.

    “its main focus will be on developing an electric car with the next generation of technology: autonomous driving”

    So now an ELECTRIC CAR with autonomous driving tech is a goal we can fairly describe as being only about autonomous, not about electric? Go figure!

    All it actually says is making a sports coupe in a hurry isn’t a priority.

    I think BMW is brilliantly positioned. Their i brand comes in handy as the coming cars will at least initially appeal to buyers that are far from the typical BMW types (conservative business folk, army types, that sort of thing). And the tech developed for i3, both in the car itself and its manufacture, is relevant and valuable wherever exactly they take the BMW I brand next. They will reap the benefits eventually.

  14. wavelet says:

    For Autonomy SW, the drivetrain type is irrelevant(*). No reason not to design autonomous driving in a modular and re-usable way, using standard APIs, so it’ll work on any car build to these APIs.
    Meaning, Autonomy efforts and EV efforts are independent.

    Oh, wait — this modular way of thinking requires being brought up on the digital world of SW, not analog ICE drivetrains…

    (*)With the exception thsn on an EV, initial brakign can be done via regen rather than immediately activating the brakes.

  15. carcus says:

    Here’s the one that should be linked:
    RPT-BMW revamps “i” electric car division to focus on self-driving tech

    “BMW has transformed its “i” division into a development centre for self-driving cars, a board member told Reuters, a major strategic shift for the unit previously focused on making a family of lightweight electric vehicles.”

    ***mod edit (staff)***
    added updated link, thanks
    ***mod edit***

    1. Carcus says:

      Kein problem.

  16. ffbj says:

    Closing the barn door after the
    semi-autonomous ev has left.

  17. tosho says:

    If they are thinking that EVs are too hard to make they will be in for a nasty surprise when trying to do autonomous cars. Trying to compete with Silicon Valley on the thing the Valley is best at, is an idiotic idea.

  18. Clive says:

    Bummer. ..

    Bye Bye BMW

  19. MaartenV says:

    Bye Bye BMW

    No way “Freude am Fahren” with a ICE can compete with BEV.

  20. Four Electrics says:

    Fundamentally, a self driving car will sell many more copies than a similar BEV. BMW is right to focus on self driving until BEVs or FCEVs are free of compromise. Even if compromised, if you have to buy a BEV in order to get autonomous driving, many people will do it.