In March, Klaus Froehlich, BMW’s head of R&D, told Automotive News Europe that his team had just begun brainstorming about what the next model in the “i” family will be like. He stated emphatically that whatever it turns out to be, it won’t arrive until 2020 at the earliest. And Froehlich was very clear — the BMW i5 will be as unique in its own way as the i3 and i8 and will not be based on any existing car in the BMW lineup.
So why do rumors continue to swirl that the car will be a “Tesla fighter” which won’t be on sale until 2018? The speculation is based on an article in AutoBild, a German magazine that claims it has inside knowledge about the upcoming car. It says it will be a plug in hybrid based on the long wheelbase BMW 5 series sedan currently built for the Chinese market. The story was picked up by Ecomento, which says the i5 powertrain will be based on the eDrive system featured on last years 5 Series GT Concept. That powertrain has a 218 horsepower 4 cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors – a 150 horsepower front motor and a 272 horsepower motor at the rear — for a total of 640 horsepower.
Hmmmm…..except for the gas engine, this sounds like a car with the same basic configuration as the Model S P85D. Factor in BMW’s expertise in carbon fiber construction and the car should weigh significantly less than the Tesla. Since there is no point building a “Tesla fighter” if it can’t stand toe to toe with the P85D at the dragstrip, would a lighter BMW with 640 horses be up to the task?
AutoBild gives precise details about the new BMW. It says it will have the design language of the upcoming 7 Series sedan but be the size of the 6 Series Gran Coupe. BMWBlog suggests the gasoline engine can be switched off for up to 78 miles of electric driving. The target price is said to be 100,000 Euros or about $110,000 at current exchange rates.
Will this new i5 be the “Tesla fighter” everyone thinks BMW wants to build? It is widely known that the Model S is cutting into sales of BMW’s 7 Series sedan. No doubt that is causing consternation in the BMW boardroom. But are the rumors accurate? If the head of BMW R&D says publicly the i5 won’t arrive until 2020 at the earliest and will be as groundbreaking in its own way as the i3 and i8, does it make sense that the car will actually be a fairly conventional plug in hybrid sedan with its focus on a gasoline engine?
The more realistic assessment is that a new BMW 5 Series sedan is being readied for sale with a beefed up plug in hybrid powertrain. In a world in which most plug in hybrids only have a range of about 30 – 40 miles, 78 miles for the BMW would be a big step forward. But a “Tesla fighter?” With a gasoline engine? Please be serious.