Raising the bar: What’s next for BMW?

The X2 Concept is a subtly stunning show car that will go into production within the next two years as a crossover coupe. ― AFP pic
The X2 Concept is a subtly stunning show car that will go into production within the next two years as a crossover coupe. ― AFP pic

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PARIS, Oct 4 ― At this year’s Paris Motor Show, BMW officially unveiled a facelifted 3 Series Gran Turismo, a 300km range version of its plug-in electric i3 city car, a new electric scooter and the X2 Concept, a subtly stunning show car that will be going into production within the next two years as a crossover coupe. However, the biggest line of questioning aimed at the company’s global head of Sales and Marketing, Dr. Ian Robertson, was about what is coming next in terms of connected and autonomous cars.

Perhaps that’s unsurprising given that BMW is a one-third owner in the hugely ambitious HERE mapping and car data platform and that it recently announced an equally ambitious partnership with Intel and Mobileye that aims to build a completely autonomous production car within the next five years.

“The next big step will be the iNext, in 2021,” said Robertson about the car that will not only boast self-driving skills but also an alternative powertrain and cutting-edge connectivity. However, in the process of building this next-generation car, current generation buyers will also benefit. “Along the way, [its] technology will spread through the brand,” he explains.

BMW is at the pinnacle of what’s possible with internal combustion engines, but doesn’t trying to be a leader in the tech world go against the philosophy of a brand that is all about driving passion?

“I think the two things go together,” responds Robertson. “The DNA of BMW always was innovation and technology. That’s what we are, that’s what we’ve always been and that’s what our brand stands for. It’s what our customers expect so you can expect us to keep pushing those boundaries. The fact that we now have thousands of software engineers ― that’s part of that development.”

Driving pleasure and the autonomous world

But even with a burgeoning tech department, to bring real-time connectivity and alerts to fruition that cut accidents, eradicate congestion and take the pain out of motoring, BMW needs Intel supercomputing and Mobileye vision systems. “We wanted to drive this forward,” explains Robertson. And where the partners want to drive it to is to the point where it is a secure, cloud-based platform with phenomenal real-time data crunching skills that is “Open source so that other parties will be able to use it,” Robertson points out. Initially it will use real-time data from BMWs, Audis and Mercedes cars but anyone will be able to integrate the system into their production cars, boosting its capability while reducing industry reliance on tech firms such as Google.

Real-time mapping and traffic alerts are things that all types of drivers and all types of cars would benefit from, but the move to full autonomous driving could still be a big gamble for BMW, a company obsessed with driver dynamics.

Robertson is quick to disagree. For the moment at least, the technology will make driving even better.

“I’m driving a new 7 series. It is semi-autonomous. I drive the first 25km in an autobahn environment, unrestricted. I drive over 250km/h. It makes me feel good in the morning and in the evening. But the last 10km are always in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I stick it into the mode that allows semi autonomy. I don’t need to use my feet any more. I can take my hands off the wheel, I can take my eyes off the road, briefly, and that for me is marrying the autonomous world with sheer driving pleasure in an urban environment because not all of it is that much fun.” ― AFP-Relaxnews

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