- Reuters/Kim Kyung Hoon
BMW is planning to launch its electric SUV, the i5, in 2021.
Automobile Mag first reported in August that BMW was working on Project iNext: the German automaker’s commitment to release an all-electric car with self-driving capabilities by 2021. But Autocar reported for the first time on Monday that the Project iNext car will be an electric SUV.
Autocar cites sources who say that BMW has settled on an SUV bodystyle for its next model to accommodate the size of a battery pack without compromising on the car’s proportions. BMW also settled on an SUV because it appeals to a segment with greater demand and profit margins than hatchbacks, according to the sources.
“We conceived the i brand to work for the long term,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales and marketing, told Autocar. “The electric car market is emerging but we see enough to be confident that consumers are understanding what it is about. What’s more, 80% of i customers are new to BMW.”
Robertson declined to comment on whether or not the Project iNext car will be an SUV to Autocar. BMW did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
BMW’s Project iNext car will be fully autonomous by 2025, according to the Automobile Mag report.
BMW said it will launch its self-driving vehicles in China in 2021. The company is working with Mobileye, a former Tesla Autopilot supplier, and Intel to develop its self-driving vehicles. BMW is also working to complete a ride-sharing program for driverless cars by 2021, Wired reported.
BMW is expected to roll out the first electric version of its Mini car in 2019, followed by an electric version of its BMW X3 in 2020, Bloomberg reported in September.
A competitive space
BMW isn’t the only automaker looking to enter the electric car space with an SUV.
Mercedes-Benz showed off its electric SUV concept, the EQ, at the Paris Motor Show, with plans to release a production version of the car in 2019.
Audi and Hyundai are also both planning on rolling out an all-electric SUV by 2018. Volkswagen is planning to roll out five electric vehicles by 2020, with more than one of those likely to be a crossover or SUV of some kind. And Volvo aims to offer at least two all-electric vehicles by 2019, one of which is expected to be a crossover or SUV.
Tesla also has plans for an electric SUV, the Model Y. Chevy’s SUV crossover, the Bolt, will hit dealerships before the end of the year.
Pursuing an electric SUV at a time where EV sales have yet to gain traction could be the best move for automakers right now.
This is because sales of smaller passenger vehicles continue to fall, while truck and SUV sales have stayed strong.
Meanwhile, electric cars make up roughly 1% of global auto sales. So going after the booming SUV segment could trigger demand in a space that has yet to gain traction with consumers.