BMW i4 EV’s debut at the Geneva Auto Show gets cancelled by COVID-19!

Mar 04, 2020

March 3rd, 2020: with the Geneva Auto Show cancelled due to the coronavirus, automakers have been forced to present their new cars via digital debuts online. BMW showed off new photos and published new specs concerning its electric i4 sedan, which the company claims will arrive at dealerships in 2021 and produce a driving range of 372 miles (which EPA estimates have cut down to 270 miles).   

By John Coulter, CURRENT EV CMO   

Both inside and out, the car’s styling is spectacular. Performance-wise, it’s a head-turner as well, powered by a single motor which will generate 390kW of pure e-power (around 530 horsepower), keeping it on a par with one BMW’s V8 combustion engines. The company claims the i4 can go from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in 4 seconds, which is pretty darn fast, though we’ve come to expect speeds like this from high-performance EV motors.   

Today’s digital-only presentation is the best look yet at “the beginning of the future” of BMW’s electric plans. For those of us who have followed the company’s electrification evolution, the diversity of EVs the company now plans to bring to market is truly inspiring. Half a decade ago, the German automaker showed it was way ahead of the curve when it debuted its quirky i3 EV and visually stunning i8 hybrid sportscar. Both won prestigious awards and added impetus to the public’s perception that e-mobility is where the auto industry is headed. BMW was quickly branded as one of the Electric Vehicle Movement’s leaders.   

In 2014, when the i3 debuted, the carmaker was considered a major pioneer in the switch to e-mobility. Whereas other German carmakers did nothing more innovative than adding electric batteries onto existing combustion model chassis to create their EVs, BMW started from scratch and designed both the i3 and i8 from the ground up. Featuring unique lightweight carbon-fibre technologies, the i3 was manufactured at BMW’s stunning new hightech Leipzig plant, which uses its own wind turbines to power the factory. The company invested a fortune in the manufacturing facility and the emerging technology which made its two cars so special.   

The i3 ranked third among all-electric cars sold worldwide from 2014 to 2016. Global sales since inception totaled more than 133,000 units through the end of 2018. Sadly, though the i3 was a best-selling e-car for 3 years, its sales fell far below the company’s expectations. The i3 has created a solid customer base, but its lightweight design, boxy look and unusual backseat doors were a significant departure from BMW’s long-held muscular car image. This created some controversy, gave it a bit of an “outlier” image, and turned off EV enthusiasts looking for something more streamlined and sporty.   

BMW fans waiting for follow ups to the i3 and i8 but were sorely disappointed. Battery enhancements to the two cars were minimal at best. A stall had occurred; the company wasn’t energetically developing any new e-cars. For 5 years it sat on its laurels, while other companies surged into overdrive, developing and selling new EVs which quickly outpaced the 2 BMW models.   

In 2016, BMW announced a major strategic overhaul, saying it would put a greater focus on developing cars with electric mobility and automated driving capabilities. But it added that the company’s investment cycles and extensive car life spans would prevent the changes from happening quickly and that combustions engines would still play a major role in the company’s business model for years to come. Investors, EV experts and media commentators considered BMW’s revised approach hesitant and reluctant, especially when then CEO, Harald Krüger, announced the changes were simply an “evolution” rather than a revolution.   

BMW didn’t realize it had a serious problem until California-based Tesla invaded BMW’s home turf and stole away many of its clients. In 2018, the i3 had fallen to 18th place in global e-car rankings with sales of around 35,000 units, while Tesla sold around 146,000 Model 3s. When, in early 2019, Tesla overtook both BMW and Daimler in European car sales, prominent engineers and execs began leaving Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, sensing the automaker’s dedication to an electric future had faultered.   

Kruger left, Oliver Zipse has taken over, and the company has made an abrupt shift, placing it back on track. Any doubt about BMW’s revived commitment to the EV Revolution instantly disappears with an examination of its website, bulging with innovative e-concept cars waiting to go into production. Performance, technology and styling-wise, the i Vision, Vision i NEXT, Vision M NEXT and Concept i4 represent the cutting edge of inspired automotive design.   

Yes, it looks like BMW is back in the race! But how long will it take to get all these super-desirable cars to market?   

Prior to these concepts entering the factory and turning into the real deal, BMW will release its iX3, a long-range China-only EV SUV with a 74 kilowatt-hour battery capable of an estimated 273 miles. Built at the BMW Brilliance Automotive plant in Shenyang, it will hit the Chinese marketplace sometime this year, in 2020. (The iX3 is reviewed separately in the CURRENT EV blog.) Prior to that, BMW will release its Mini Cooper EV – the first widely-available, all-electric version of the car, which will start at around $29,900 when it goes on sale in the US in March 2020. (The Mini Cooper EV is reviewed separately in the CURRENT EV blog.)   

BMW’s emphasis at the Geneva Auto Show wasn’t on the iX3 and/or Mini Cooper EV. It was solely aimed at the i4, which the auto manufacturer calls “The First-Ever electric Gran Coupe.” The car’s sleek, rakish styling fuses with impressive power and range. If all goes according to BMW’s timetable, the 4-door EV will hit the USA in 2021.   

BMW’s website sales pitch: “Concept i4 is the new, electric dimension of the Ultimate Driving Machine. Sculpted for the future, this dynamic powerhouse embodies confident, modern design. Perfectly balanced Gran Coupe proportions are accented by blue design elements, exclusively styled wheels, and a reimagined BMW Roundel. From the large closed-off double kidney grille to the fastback roofline and slim taillights, the clean contours of the BMW Concept i4 express the essence of the future. The BMW Concept i4 sports an elegant cockpit, ergonomically curved display, and luxurious glass crystal controls. Seats made with sustainably produced materials complement the modern feel. Driving or riding in the BMW Concept i4 is a multi-sensory experience. The full-length Panorama glass roof inspires a feeling of calm in the open, airy interior. A soundscape exclusive to BMW, created by world-renowned composer Hans Zimmer, brings a new ambiance to the world of electric vehicles. Meticulously crafted from initial designs to the very first model, the BMW Concept i4 is a perfected blend of artistry and sustainability, inside and out.”   

The interior presents the car’s most standout characteristics. A totally glass roof offers expansive views to all occupants. Rear seat passengers will sit in actual full-sized seats. The i4’s cockpit is uber-clean and super-organized; there’s no clutter here or extraneous elements; just a few modest styling touches – rose gold trim, white leather upholstery and light wood trim – that separate the various surfaces.   

Dominating the cabin is a wide, slightly curved rectangular screen that sits behind the steering wheel and flows across the front of the cockpit, ending just past where the passenger’s seat begins. We’re going to see these much larger low-glare monitors in many of the new EVs which intend to mimic the large touchscreen experience started by Tesla. No doubt BMW designers figured it would be a logical progression to combine the two small screens in the current i3 and i8 into one single large screen presenting the full suite of infotainment and vehicle system displays. All the contemporary BMWs offer Apple CarPlay capability, a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless phone charging, and various audio-system upgrades; you can be certain the i4 will include these features.   

Outside, the sleek sedan will sport an abundance of aerodynamic angles, strategically-placed blue tints which have become an “i” trademark, and an enlarged, reconfigured kidney grille, which for past BMWs has provided channels for air to cool the engine. Since the i4 has no engine to cool, the grille has become an “intelligence panel” containing various sensors and radars. The car has three driving modes; Core, Sport and Efficient. The Efficient mode highlights the i4’s charge level and range, and actually shows what the intelligence panel’s sensors are seeing in the world surrounding the car.   

And what a fast-paced, ever-evolving world that is! The human realm is blossoming with electric vehicles. Their sales are exponential; they double or triple every year, portending a bright future for Next Gen EVs.

The i4’s introduction party at the Geneva Auto Show had to be cancelled. But no virus outbreak can deny BMW’s reclaimed e-mobility momentum, or lessen the fact that the i4 looks great on video. Clearly ironic since it’s a – forgive the pun – a video gone viral. BMW isn’t worried about the car show ending before it began. It knows there will be plenty of other auto shows at which the i4 can shine. And plenty of customers lining up to obtain one when they’re released.   

i4 Press Release:   

i4 video: