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Finding perfection in design: Creating the BMW i8

 

As with any new product, the process of designing a new type of vehicle is a detailed and evolutionary process. The wealth of talent, expertise and knowledge that work in synergy is incredible. But every project has one thing in common, no matter what subject it is; an idea.

When BMW announced it planned on creating an eco sports car of the future, a new type of vehicle that had never been seen before, sceptics thought this was an impossible task.

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BMW’s big idea

BMW’s idea was to create a car that would capture people’s imagination, offer a driving experience to rival any other sports car in its class, but in return deliver 70 miles per gallon and 99 grams of CO2 per kilometre. What they achieved was simply outstanding.

The BMW design DNA and philosophy can be seen throughout its entire range of cars. Past and present, these cars are defined by distinctive proportions, exquisite surfaces and attention to detail. Trademark features include the distinct kidney-shaped grilles, the iconic propeller badge and the halo-ringed headlights; all creating the traditional BMW face we all recognise.

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There is also “the true side view”, a unique silhouette for every car that can be identified by a selection of a few of the main design lines travelling down the length of the vehicle. Other elements to help create the “BMW look” include a long wheel base, short over hangs, stretched bonnet and set back passenger cell.

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Developing and unveiling a revolutionary design

In 2009 the Vision Efficient Dynamics concept was revealed to the world at the Frankfurt motor show, and the world’s press finally got a glimpse of how BMW was going to revolutionise how we look and think about hybrid electric cars, especially its sports car variants.

A futuristic look, finished in crystal white with blue accents and LED lights front and back, the design concept certainly hit the mark aesthetically. Technology-led design with form that follows function, engineered with the use of cutting edge lightweight materials and pioneering electric hybrid technology, the Vision Efficient Dynamics concept was an immediate success.

With the trademark kidney grille at the front and a new take on the flanking headlights. It was that classic face of a BMW, just one that helped us peer into the future of the brand. Even in side view, the distinct design lines flowing from front to rear can be seen and give this design its own unique silhouette.

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When an idea becomes reality

Fast-forward four years to 2013 and BMW’s sports car of the future was launched, yet again at the Frankfurt motor show. With its new title ‘i8’ and decked out in its production guise, the car’s main body featured a single carbon fibre safety structure mounted onto an aluminium backbone chassis. The body panels that are fitted to the main structure are thermo plastic instead of being painted, a technique that uses 70% less water, and all plastic components used in the vehicle comprise recycled drinks bottles.

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Staying on this eco theme, the i8 was created on sites that operate using hydroelectric or wind turbine-generated energy. Powered by three engines, the i8 is an all wheel drive vehicle, not the usual rear wheel drive common in sports cars. A 1.5 litre 3-cylinder turbo charged petrol engine in the rear producing 231 bhp provides drive to the rear axle, and an electric motor producing 131bhp located in the front drives the front axle, making this an all wheel drive car. A second electric motor is located in the back next to the main engine, this helps with all other ancillaries in the vehicle. Finally, by placing the large heavy batteries low down in the centre of the vehicle run the electric motor, the i8 perfect weight distribution – a basic requirement for any sports car that is expected to handle well.

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What truly makes this a BMW is the level of engineering. A car running purely on electric power will make no sound, and because of this the build quality has to be excellent, and I can say from experience there are no creaks or squeaks at all. And the interior makes you feel like you’re in something very, very special.

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Did BMW succeed in its mission to create an eco car of the future? Yes. With an original target of 70mpg and 99 grams of CO2pkm, the i8 achieves 49 grams of CO2pkm and an amazing 135mpg. All the while giving the driver performance figures of 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, a top speed of 155mph and handling characteristics to match any current performance car. And this is BMW’s first attempt, gen 1, so it is exciting to think what will be developed next over the coming decade.

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The most impressive aspect to come out of this project is the processes that have been put into place to make designing, manufacturing, driving and owning cars in the future far more sustainable than it is currently. If this is the future of motoring, then the future is going to be a great place to be.

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