Saturday 11 June 2016

BMW Revamps 'i' Electric Car Division to Focus on Self-Driving Tech


BMW `i’ Division Transformed into Development Centre

A board member has informed Reuters, that the `i’ division of BMW has been transformed into a development centre for self-driving cars, a main considered shift for the unit had earlier aimed on making a family of lightweight electric vehicles. Though Model 3 of Tesla would hit showrooms in 2017 and as Porsche and Audi rivals would be working on all electric cars to be released by 2019, the German car manufacturer seems to have put these kinds of cars at the back and its next fully-electric car would not be due till 2021.

The company’s approach has been changed after it’s fully battery powered car, and the i3, was not successful in gaining traction with the public with only 25,000 sales done last year. Tesla in comparison has already received over 370,000 orders for its Model 3. Instead of looking to match Tesla and Porsche with new zero-emissions sports limousine for release in the next two years, its focus lies in manufacturing an electric car with the next generation of technology, the autonomous driving.

Project `i’ Next

BMW board member Klaus Froehlich, in charge of development, in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Munich had mentioned that in April he had re-launched the `i’ division, as a unit dedicated in producing cars which tend to drive themselves and it is now in ramp-up stage which is called `Project i Next’. The renovation also tends to follow four great profile staff defections, this year from the division. Manager of BMW’s `i’ powertrain group Dirk Abendroth, vice president product management BMW `i’ Henrik Wenders, and vice president engineering, head of the i8 vehicle programme, Carsten Breitfeld, had been robbed by a Chinese electric vehicle start-up.

As a measure of its autonomous driving push, BMW has been hiring experts in machine learning as well as artificial intelligence. It is also assimilating the tasks of prevailing computer driven support systems such as emergency braking, cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and automatic parking. Froehlich stated that `with a fully autonomous vehicle, BMW could launch a ride hailing business without the need to pay drivers, thus giving car manufacturers a competitive edge over new ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft that seem toeat away car sales by making part utilisation convenient as ownership.

BMW to Partner with Ride-Hailing Firm

Toyota Motor Corp had mentioned earlier in the month that it would invest in Uber and Volkswagen had announced a $300 million investment in Gett which was a smaller ride-sharing company. It is said that BMW may partner with a ride-hailing firm especially in markets such as China though the car manufacturer’ policy on probable partnerships with companies is yet being worked out in this space according to Froehlich. He further added that China which is the world’s largest car market would probablybe the market, where autonomous cars would first appear on a big scale.

He also mentioned that China is implementing technology extremely fast. Last year more electric cars were sold in China than in all the other global markets put together. BMW has also been considering in expanding the area of reserving parking areas as well as electric car charging stations over mobile phone, a market that is still uneven within countries. Car manufacturers have already invested in ParkNow as well as Parkmobile the two digital parking as well as payment services.

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