Opinion: Next BMW i8 Could Go Pure-Electric. But Should It?

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
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The era of pure-electric performance cars is on the rise. And BMW’s now-iconic i8 could be the next sports car to make the all-electric switch.

Ferrari is reportedly set to reveal not one but two hybrid sports cars in the coming months. It is rumored Audi is building an electric-only third-generation R8 supercar. And Tesla is still readying its second-generation Roadster. Meanwhile, BMW brass apparently can’t decide whether the second-generation i8 sports car should remain a hybrid or whether it ought to become a pure EV.

The i8 is scheduled for debut at the end of 2023. And no matter whether it’s a hybrid or an EV, battery and electric motor supplier contracts need to be signed so engineers can get to work executing the plans of Bimmer leadership. This, according to a recent report from Autocar.

There are said to be two factions inside the company arguing over the fate of the i8’s powertrain. One side believes that the carbon fiber and aluminum chassis of the current car should be carried forward. However, since it’s not as modular as, say, the skateboard-style chassis of the brand’s iNEXT EV, it’s not ideal for full electrification. Simply, it doesn’t have the space to fit a battery big enough to make it a long-range pure-electric sports car. However, not having to toss the current chassis in the garbage and reinvent the wheel, so to speak, would be a money savings.

At the same time however, the future luxury performance market forming around BMW appears to be mostly all-electric. Think Tesla Roadster and pure-electric, third-gen Audi R8 for example.

BMW iNEXT
BMW iNEXT’s chassis could be used for a pure-electric, second-gen i8. | Photo: BMW

What is BMW to do? Well, it could use some of its new fast-spinning electric motors, which more closely replicate the brand’s high-revving internal combustion engines (ICE). And then also mate those motors to either a four- or six-cylinder engine, of which it has plenty to choose from. The current three-cylinder-engine-powered i8, along with a pair of electric motors, produces 369 horsepower. More potent electric motors and a six-cylinder engine could push out as much as 600 horsepower, which would make it quite competitive in the marketplace and compelling for customers.

However, that sort of powertrain wouldn’t exactly live as a halo atop the BMW model range — especially since it, like virtually other carmaker, wants to be a leader in pure-electrification. So having a trio of next-gen all electric vehicles, iX3, i4, and iNEXT (currently undergoing testing ahead of their 2021 production date) sitting next to a hybrid sports car might not be the best brand choice.

It could just forget the hybrid plan and create a new electric car on that iNEXT EV platform. Though, as we discussed, that would require jettisoning the specially designed carbon fiber chassis after one generation — not the best business decision.

So, clearly, there are excellent arguments on both sides: Buck the pure-electric trend and build a riotous hybrid utilizing the existing chassis. Or toss it all in the bin and start fresh in order to underscore BMW’s electrification bona fides.

Does BMW Want To Compete With Tesla

In order to weigh Bimmer’s best move, we should probably consider the growing number of pure-electric competitors. Chief among those competitors is the Tesla Roadster.

Although the car isn’t due any sooner than 2020, it’s unlikely — by my approximation — that Tesla won’t be able to build many by then. After all, the company is in financial dire straits. And it’s virtually never delivered a car on time.

Plus, the car is said to have almost impossible performance specs. Tesla claims a range more than 1000 kilometers (620 miles). It’s said to accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds. Frankly, I am suspicious Tesla will actually be able to achieve either of those claims. Given that fact, the car just might not ever go into production to avoid brand embarrassment.

Red 2020 Tesla Roadster
The second-gen Tesla Roadster is said to do 0-60 mph in 1.9 seconds. | Photo: Tesla

I have a feeling the car that’s really goading BMW into going all-electric with the next i8 is the rumored next-gen pure-electric Audi R8. It’s said to be powered by a solid-state battery and capable of putting out — thanks to a trio of electric motors — 650 horsepower. Autocar claims BMW has been developing a solid-state battery of its own for the i8, but the cells aren’t mature enough, in terms of reliability, to be implemented into a production car just yet.

Audi is rumored to be considering killing the R8 ICE V10 and replacing it with electrons because, not only does it want to embarrass Bimmer and Benz, but it also wants to reenergize R8 sales. The current, second-gen R8 hasn’t sold as well as the first. So Audi is considering a complete rethink. Moreover, Audi wants to sell 800,000 EVs by 2025. And having an incredible-looking and performing EV at the top of your product line would help spur sales, as the first R8 did when it essentially saved the brand.

Audi PB18 e-tron concept might preview the newest all-electric Audi supercar. | Photo: Audi

As much as it pains me to say it, because I am such a proponent of EVs, I think BMW would be best suited to going the Porsche route.

Porsche is expected to build a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of its all-new 911 sports car. With a flat-six-cylinder in the rear of the car and electric motors in the front, it’d be an all-wheel drive sports car capable of doing incredible lap times as well as driving on electrons alone.

I say, let Audi and Tesla duke it out for pure-electric sports car supremacy. They’re both brands better-known for being tech leaders than necessarily their performance acumen. BMW and Porsche, on the other hand, are long-reigning ICE performance brands. They shouldn’t let go of that, at least not yet.

Although pure-electric powertrains can return truly neck-snapping acceleration, they don’t yet offer the ability to withstand long and sustained punishment. By that I mean, if you hammer on an EV hard and long enough, it’ll overheat and run out of juice. This simply isn’t the case with ICE.

So, BMW would be best served to continue the carbon fiber chassis and combine the best of its ICE and EV breakthroughs in one amazing looking car, the next-gen i8. After all, it’ll have the iX3, i4, and iNEXT to hang its hat on to prove its EV acuity. Let the i8 be its hybrid performance machine that holds onto its ICE heritage a bit longer.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

can be reached at nickjaynes@gmail.com
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