BMW will continue to push the envelope on using alternative materials inside its cars and CUVs but do not look for the German luxury automaker to share too many ideas between its radically green “i” line and its more mainstream brands, design executive Marc Girard says.
“From a technical standpoint there will be some links,” Girard says of the material strategies for BMW, Mini and the eco-friendly i3 and i8. “But we will make it brand appropriate.”
For example, the lightweight carbon fiber “upcycled” by BMW for the i3 and i8 to improve their all-electric range also is used to make the chassis of the redesigned ’16 BMW 7-Series lighter and more rigid.
But headier BMW i materials, such as the battleship-gray instrument panel pressed from recycled hemp, the heavy-duty upholstery repurposed from water bottles, the sustainable eucalyptus wood trim and leather seats tanned with olive-leaf extract, will remain exclusive to that brand.
Girard calls the aggressive approach, wherein 25% of i3 materials are alternative or recycled, “too strong an aesthetic” for a one-to-one application at BMW or Mini.
“Each brand will rely on its own recipes,” Girard, director-Global Automotive Design at BMW Designworks, says after speaking to the 2015 WardsAuto Interiors Conference.
But he also thinks sustainability soon will define the premium segment and welcomes fresh competitors such as Tesla, which soon will be offering two new models.
“It is a positive that there are more competitors in the electric-car segment,” he says. “Being a standalone player on such a big field is difficult. The positive effect is it brings (awareness) higher, so we see it positively.”
More BMW i offerings appear to be in the pipeline, too. Asked if the automaker has plans for models beyond the i3 and i8, Girard answers coyly, “There are a lot of numbers between three and eight.”
Going forward, he sees BMW i further pioneering alternative drivetrains and making greater use of lightweight materials, aerodynamics and mobility services, such as location-based services for car-sharing and parking.
Car-sharing of a BMW may seem like heresy to some, but Girard says it is coming, evidenced by the automaker’s initial DriveNow program in San Francisco. For a onetime $39 fee, members can rent an available ActiveE electric vehicle at streetside locations.
“Owning versus sharing is something we have identified,” he says.
Progressively clean shapes and materials will be the hallmark of BMW i interiors and exteriors, he says, and designers will continue to focus on repositioning of the premium experience to include a sustainable value chain and convenient e-commerce offerings.
Girard expects his group to act boldly in coming years as automakers try to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market. He specifically sees the user interface as a future battleground.
“Everyone is going to push into the experience space, or the user interface,” says Girard, who directs 130 designers and inter-disciplinary professionals at three global studios. “That is the next big thing.”
As the automaker that brought the revolutionary iDrive user interface to market more than a decade ago and one of the first to establish an office in Silicon Valley, Girard says BMW has a leg up on the competition.
“I’d like to think so,” he says.