The BMW Vision iNEXT Reveals the Future of Cars
The Vision iNEXT is a concept designed to highlight the company’s vision for a fully electrified, highly automated and fully connected motoring future.
NEW YORK – Earlier this week in a quiet corner of New York’s JFK airport, BMW revealed its vision for the near future on a Lufthansa cargo plane.
After herding attendees up a steep steel staircase leading into the rear of a Boeing 777F (chosen for the occasion because it’s the most fuel-efficient aircraft in its class), BMW revealed its Vision iNEXT to a handful of dealers and members of the automotive press.
The Vision iNEXT is a concept SUV (or SAV, sports activity vehicle, in BMW vernacular), designed to highlight the company’s vision for a fully electrified, highly automated and fully connected motoring future.
The stop in New York was the second destination for BMW’s ‘World Flight’, a travelling Vision iNEXT reveal roadshow that also made stops in Munich, San Francisco and Beijing.
Essentially, the Vision iNEXT is the future of BMW’s i division of pure electrics and plug-ins, but it’s not just about that. The vehicle also provides some insight into the company’s thinking on electrification moving forward and serves as a testbed/trial balloon for future design, technology, materials, engineering and construction.
The Vision iNEXT will go into production in 2021 at BMW’s plant in Dingolfing, Germany, as part of the company’s plans to offer 25 models with electrified drivetrains by 2025, with 12 of those being pure electrics.
In a lengthy 10-page press release sent out after the New York reveal, BMW indicated the Vision iNEXT will, “assume the role of a new technology flagship.”
The importance of the vehicle does indeed match the high stakes feeling that was palpable on the plane during the reveal.
In addition to several communications people from both the head office in Munich and the U.S. arm of the company, BMW also sent two high-ranking executives to make the reveal presentation: Klaus Frölich, member of the board of management in charge of development, and Adrian Van Hooydonk, group vice president of design.
Frölich and Van Hooydonk spoke at length about the significance of the Vision iNEXT, both during the reveal and in breakout sessions afterwards, and how BMW intends for it to be not only a technology carrier but also a key strategic plank moving forward.
However, because the Vision iNEXT is a concept and production is a few years away, not much information is available at the moment regarding projected specs, construction materials, and how much of the reveal will make it into production. BMW did, however, say that a 600 km range is being targeted.
The general impression left from questions posed to both executives is that the Vision iNEXT will resemble its production counterpart and a lot of its design/technology will make its way into production.
As for autonomous driving, the Vision iNEXT is slated to be available with level 3 capability (conditional automation), which means the vehicle can take full control and drive itself in some circumstances when specific operational conditions are met.
Audi is claiming the Traffic Jam Pilot tech on its forthcoming 2019 A8 full-size sedan will mark the first time a vehicle with level 3 capability will be publicly available, but its approval for sale in many countries, including Canada, has not yet been finalized.
Presumably, these concerns will have been ironed out by the time the production variant of the Vision iNEXT comes to market in 2021.
From a design perspective, the Vision iNEXT has a recognizable BMW look. It has roughly the same proportions of the current X5, with a ‘four-eyed’ face featuring slim headlights and a large vertical kidney grille with a flat 3D-printed cover. As the car is an EV, no cooling vents are required but the cover is made of a material that allows for the passage of signals enabling the car’s sensors to ‘see’ the road ahead.
Other notable features include 24-inch wheels, which seem a bit large for production, and opposing ‘suicide’ style doors and the absence of side mirrors which have been replaced by cameras. Blue accents have been incorporated into the front sides and rear of the Vision iNEXT and they light up when the car is unlocked.
On the inside, the Vision iNEXT has the appearance of a fine living room with a wooden centre console resembling a coffee table, along with a rear compartment that’s been fitted with a lounge-like seat made from Jacquard weave cloth upholstery.
There are no switches, buttons or controls of any kind. For the driver, the cockpit features a steering wheel and two large digital display panels that change based on the vehicle’s driving mode.
In ‘boost’ mode, the driver is in control with the steering wheel and screens facing him/her, but in ‘ease’ mode, the Vision iNEXT handles the driving duties so the steering wheel retracts for more space and the display screens switch from driving data to possible destinations or attractions the driver and passengers may want to visit. BMW refers to this as ‘exploration mode’.
The interior also features a suite of advanced connected car tech, including ‘shy tech’, technology that stays out of sight until it is needed.
In the Vision iNEXT, BMW presents the possibility of operating various functions out of wood or cloth displays thereby negating the need for display screens thanks to shy tech.
Three applications of shy tech were on display in the Vision iNEXT: intelligent personal assistant, intelligent materials, and intelligent beam.
Intelligent personal assistant operates through voice command and is linked to BMW Connected, and can be linked to smart devices and even smart home networks. The system is activated with a ‘hey BMW’ prompt.
Intelligent materials refer to the wood and cloth surfaces of the Vision iNEXT as being able to be used as touch interfaces to control functions such as music playback. During demonstrations, the Jacquard cloth would light up and follow the finger of the user to perform various functions such as volume level and track changes. BMW also confirmed that gesture control – currently available on 5 and 7-Series models – will carry on in some form in the production version of the Vision iNEXT.
Finally, intelligent beam uses a camera/projector to display media such as words, photos and even interactive graphics and content directly on different surfaces, thereby eliminating the need for separate screens to read books and watch movies.
In sum, the BMW Vision iNEXT is an ambitious vehicle. And for those involved, they speak about it with a clear conviction.
Frölich expressed in a media roundtable following the presentation that the car is much closer to science fact than science fiction.
“I think if you look at the exterior, it’s very, very close to the car you will get in ’21. If you look at the technologies, [the] fifth generation of electric drivetrains, yes you will get it. You will get more than 600 km of range and less than four seconds naught to 60 (mph). This will all happen,” he said.
“Also, [regarding] autonomous driving, I can guarantee every customer will have a far-reaching level 3 system and we have already developed level 4 and 5 systems, and then we have to decide where the regulations are for which country, [and] if we do it on our own, in pilot fleets or with a ride-sharing partner or if there is a possibility to sell it to as an option to private customers,” Frölich continued.
While questions remain surrounding the final form of BMW Vision iNEXT and where it will be sold and under what circumstances, it hints at what may soon be possible in a car.
And that’s pretty exciting.
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