BMW Confirms 'i' Electric Sub-Brand, Lineup: MegaCity Now i3

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Auto marketers and PR people have a love-hate relationship with the Internet. It lets them connect directly with users and fans, but it also transmits facts, leaks, and rumors at lightning speed.

That meant that this morning's BMW press conference, telecast live from BMW Welt in a snowy Munich, contained very little new to anyone who had been following closely.

Rumored BMW 'i' logo

Rumored BMW 'i' logo

The event was to announce that BMW is creating a new sub-brand (which had been rumored), to be known as 'i' (which had been rumored), with its own graphic (which had been leaked), that will grow to include an entire range of custom-developed vehicles.

The BMW MegaCity Vehicle, its carbon-fiber all-electric urban car, will be known officially as the BMW i3. That number was new; some had bet on i2 or even i1, since the "3" designation has so far only applied to the company's best-known and highest-production model, the 3-Series.

And the production version of the Concept EfficientDynamics, first unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show of 2009, will be known as i8 (which was also rumored).

BMW Megacity Vehicle official teaser

BMW Megacity Vehicle official teaser

This being a typical German press conference, there was a great deal of language about "a new world of revolutionary mobility," and the newly-named i3 being "the first time in history that a car has been purposed-designed and built from the ground up for sustainable premium mobility."

Oh, and lest we forget, 'i' stands for "innovative, integrated, and, of course, inspiring" vehicles. The 'i' sub-brand is the perfect complement to the "M" sub-brand, which denotes performance and exclusivity, with both taking different approaches to delivering "the BMW brand promise of joy through sheer driving pleasure."

And so on. The video at the bottom was shown as well, if you want a flavor of the event for yourself.

BMW prototype based on Vision EfficientDynamics concept

BMW prototype based on Vision EfficientDynamics concept

In its quest to be "the most innovative and sustainable premium car company in the industry," BMW chose to establish the separate sub-brand for two types of customer. (If you're either of them, or some other kind of fan, there's inevitably a Facebook fan page.)

First are experienced premium consumers, who are now coming to value sustainability and social responsibility (while still demanding the BMW driving experience). Then there are cosmopolitan trend-seekers, for whom a sense of style is as important as their passion for technical innovation.

The real news came around some of the new sub-brand's styling hallmarks, as presented by BMW design chief Adrian van Hooydonk. The 'i' cars, for instance, will have a blue ring around the traditional BMW rondel badge.

The twin BMW "grille" elements at the front of each car will also be ringed in blue, although they won't actually be air inlets. They may well be blanking plates, in fact (as they are on the less upmarket 2011 Chevrolet Volt), but the twin-kidney grille is such an "important feature in recognizing a BMW car" that it had to stay.

BMW prototype based on Vision EfficientDynamics concept

BMW prototype based on Vision EfficientDynamics concept

The wheels will be large in diameter, although narrower than today's BMWs to reduce aerodynamic drag, and the 'i' cars will have their own recognizable roof pillar design (or "C-pillar") as well as aero flaps just behind the front wheels and an L-shaped design for the rear lights, also outlined in blue.

About that graphic: "The 'i' is the narrowest, smallest letter in alphabet, so we gave it more width, more presence," von Hooydonk said. "The 'i' brand stands for transparency, so the letter itelf is transparent." OK, then.

Both the i3 and the i8 will be built at BMW's Leipzig plant, which will become its global competence center for low- and no-emission vehicles. But "you'll have to wait a little longer to see the cars," with further information expected at the Geneva Motor Show, where media days start on March 1.

"There's a lot of space between 3 and 8, isn't there?" asked the unnamed announcer. "Three is not the lowest number, nor is eight the highest"--all but confirming that at some point in the future, there will be additional models in the line.

Finally, BMW announced the formation of its own $100 million venture capital arm, to be called BMW i Ventures and based in New York City. BMW i Ventures announced its first investment at the press conference, in mobile information provider MyCityWay, which provides data on city attractions to mobile phones.

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