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With the Vision iNEXT, BMW presents its roadmap for the future, one that focuses on using technology to improve our lives and better our experiences.

11 Dec 2018

You might have seen pictures and read about the recently unveiled BMW Vision iNEXT, a concept vehicle that radically reimagines what the automobile of the future will look like. Making its world premiere at the recently concluded Los Angeles Motor Show, the iNEXT is a concept car of striking design, futuristic technology and bold ambitions.

With the Vision iNEXT, BMW is outlining its vision of future mobility
And while many will (quite understandably) focus on what the car is, that might perhaps be missing the point somewhat.

Yes, while the iNEXT is undeniably a car (in the fact that it has four wheels and has physical form), the iNEXT is actually so much more than just a car. On one hand, it's a consummation of an idea - to push the boundaries of technical and aesthetic development to create a car that looks, feels and operates in a way that is quite unrecognisable.

But on the other hand, the iNEXT is a stepping-stone to the future, the first iteration of the brand's radical transformation that places the focus of digital technology. The iNEXT, present today, is so much more concerned with what's to come tomorrow.

The design of tomorrow

The automotive industry is currently in a period of radical change, and the development of electric and autonomous vehicles, as well as pursuit of shared mobility, could potentially change what the car of tomorrow looks like. Any significant change will understandably be met with a measure of anxiety and the fear of the unknown, something that BMW recognises.

Adrian highlights the importance of making sure that technology is positive, warm and inviting
As Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design, tells us, understanding these fears and anxieties is key to the design process.

"We know that artificial intelligence sounds cool, but in reality people are afraid of it. Scared that the machine is smarter than us, and that we are going to lose control. As a designer, we have an opportunity to change that perception, to take those fears and turn it into something positive," he says.

In the iNEXT's conception was a focus on distilling an emotional, human experience, one that helps to assuage such anxieties through a design that is inviting, warm and sensitive. The design process of the iNEXT was an inside-out one - starting from creating the ideal interior space that fully delivers the sort of experience that BMW wants to achieve.

Intelligent materials allow for mullti-modal interaction with the car
It is one that emphasises relaxation and the ability for passengers to talk to each other, almost like a lounge area that you might find in a boutique hotel. 

"We want to create a space that is relaxing, where technology retreats into the background, only visible when you need and want it. Otherwise it's a space that improves quality of life and maximises well-being. The underlying thrust of this car is to find a human answer for the big changes that are coming," says Matthias Junghanns, Head of BMW i Interior Design.

The cabin is designed around flexibility. Like a modern living room, the interior space is a composition of furnitures, with the seats blending into the side panels to allow occupants to arrange themselves in a manner that promotes natural face to face communication.

Technology to change our lives

With the iNEXT, BMW is looking at how technology can better our lives. The iNEXT highlights technology BMW calls 'Shy Tech' - intelligent technology integrated out of sight. The Intelligent Personal Assistant is already available on new BMW models like the 3 Series and the X7, while futuristic new technologies like the Intelligent Beam technology and intelligent materials will change the way we interact with the car.

Improved connectivity functions will form a digital bridge between the car and the rest of your digital life
As cars become smarter, it needs to also integrate with the rest of our digital lives. This is where connectivity comes into the picture.

"As one of the key strategic fields for BMW, connectivity will serve as a digital bridge to your digital life," says Mr. Junghanns, "so that you have a seamless transition between the rest of your digital life and your car."

Of course, autonomous vehicles can significantly change the way we use cars.

Take for example the ParkNow app. Currently, it allows a fully digital means of finding and paying for parking spaces. With autonomous technology, this could in effect automate the valet service, allowing you as the driver to have the car drop you off and pick you up at a pre-specified time and location. While a full rollout of such technology is likely still some ways into the future, when the production model of the iNEXT is launched in 2021, it will have up to Level 4 autonomous capabilities, drawing us one step closer to such a future.

With its simple and uncluttered surfaces, the cabin emphasises warmth and encourages passenger interaction
Drive how you want, when you want

Will we then lose control of the car altogether? Well, BMW is certainly not going to let that happen. After all, the brand has built its 100-year heritage around the joy of driving.

In the iNEXT, the driver has the luxury of choosing how he wants to drive, in either Boost or Ease mode. Boost mode allows the driver full control of the car. With a push of the BMW logo on the steering wheel, Ease mode is engaged, and the car takes over.

In this instance, the steering wheel will retract slightly, while the pedals will be retracted flush to the floor. "The joy of driving is the core of our DNA, and our next step is to offer our customers exactly the luxury of choice when it comes to how to drive the car," says Mr. Junghanns. 

A better future begins here

Driving this change is the BMW i sub-brand. As Robert Irlinger, Head of BMW i, tells us, "The major role for BMW i is to be the pioneering spirit within the company, to bring the company forward when it comes to new technology and drive our transformation into a technology company for premium mobility and services."

Cars like the BMW i8 have helped to drive the positive perception of electric mobility
Electrification is obviously going to play a big role in BMW's product portfolio in the future. By 2025, BMW will offer 12 all electric cars and 13 plug-in hybrids, and electrified cars are expected to make up 15% to 25% of sales.

Mr. Irlinger notes, "Electrification is no longer just a small trend, and will come to the heart of the brand. We've worked on all our architectures, able to create every model in the BMW lineup as a full-electric car or a plug-in hybrid. However, whether we actually offer an electrified variant will depend on customer demand."

Investing in the future is more than just about manufacturing cars. A quick jaunt to the BMW Tech Office in Mountain View makes this abundantly clear. There, the focus is on research and development of budding technologies, as well as investments in tech start-ups pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Of course, these goals to make cars smarter, cleaner yet exponentially more functional and beneficial to our lives is bold, grand, and ultimately necessary. With the iNEXT, BMW has very clearly outlined its roadmap for the future.

Through forward-thinking design and seamless technology, the iNEXT drives BMW's bold and emotional vision of the future
Technology will drive this transition to a smarter and better future.

"We use these Vision vehicles to make a clear and strong message. But if this results in a production vehicle that the driver is lost and can't find his way around, then we would have done something wrong. We want to achieve exactly the opposite. We don't want to make it technically overcomplicated or overwhelming, but to make it highly intuitive and as smooth and seamless as possible," says Mr. Junghanns.

What will not be lost, though, is the emotionality of the vehicle. From both a design and driving perspective, emotionality is fundamental to the brand. As Mr. Van Hooydonk puts it, "For a luxury brand, emotion is what makes people buy our cars. We're very aware of that, and thus we have to deliver something that is more than the sum total of its functions."

The iNEXT, for everything that it is, is so much more than a concept car. It's a culmination of BMW's development until today. It also represents BMW's goals, ambitions and dreams of what's to come. The BMW Vision iNEXT is one more step towards that future, and a roadmap of how to get there.
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