BMW’s Project-i will build ‘premium vehicles’

Published: 05 March 2009 Updated: 26 January 2015

BMW’s much vaunted Project-i will adopt a radical new approach to mass transport for growing urban populations – but only for those that can afford it. ‘These vehicles will be premium vehicles,’ Project-i leader Dr Ulrich Kranz told CAR at the Geneva motor show. ‘They will not be Tata Nano rivals – no way! We can and will only build premium cars.’

Remind me about Project-i again please…

Initiated in 2007, Project-i is BMW’s bold new strategy to develop a raft of revolutionary two, three and four-wheeled vehicles to answer the mobility demands of specific mega-cities such as London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City and Shanghai.

Backed by BMW boss Norbert Reithofer, Kranz – a key figure in the development of the Mini – will draw owner feedback from the 515 electric Mini E models currently in use in America and Germany to plan the Project-i cars. ‘These will assist our learning process of what urban customers want and need,’ said Kranz.

So we should expect small two, three and four-wheel vehicles with big BMW prices?

In a word, yes. And BMW has yet to decide whether these vehicles will wear blue and white propellers on their noses. ‘We don’t yet know if we need another brand to market these cars,’ said Kranz. ‘But it could be that we do…’

The cars will initially be built in Germany, but as sales grow BWM will install production plants as close to the markets as possible. ‘But they will be built by BMW in BMW factories – we wouldn’t consider outsourcing production to a third party,’ elaborated Kranz.

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And BMW has made three-wheeled cars before, plus it knows a thing or two about motorcycles…

Yes indeed – there will be much cross-pollination between Mini and BMW’s motorcycle division. So we can expect an odd mix of two-seater rear-drive motorbikes and trikes (think of the disastrous C1 but updated with full canopy, chunky side-impact protection, tandem seats and mechanical anti-tilt device) and Toyota iQ-sized four-wheelers, all powered by 650cc and 1200cc petrol and diesel boxer engines, advanced lithium-ion batteries or a combination of both.

Hmm. I’m not quite convinced

Neither are we, but Kranz swears that despite their segment-busting characteristics, they will be BMWs to the core. ‘Performance and dynamism will be key to their appeal. They will meet people’s expectations of what a BMW is to drive.’ But don’t hold you breath – Kranz admitted that it would only be by 2015 that we could expect to see any Project-i cars in BMW showrooms.

>> Would you buy a BMW city car? Will it be any better than a Mini? Click ‘Add your comment’ below and have your say.

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars