BMW once built arguably the best electric city car on earth, and while the automaker’s EV offerings have since arrived a bit more slowly than some might like, it looks like things are about to be shaken up a little. And this – the “The BMW Vision Neue Klasse” — might be the first look at what that shake-up will look like. BMW is making a lot of promises with what seems like less of “just a concept car” and more of “the next chapter for the company” and the debut of a new 800 volt architecture.
Read BMW’s press release, and you’ll hear what you typically hear when an automaker shows off a new concept car — basically, this is what the future looks like. Here it is from BMW itself:
With its lates design concept, the BMW Vision Neue Klasse, BMW is showcasing what the next generation of its vehicles will look like.
Oftentimes, this really doesn’t mean a whole lot, but sometimes it does. BMW’s i3 Concept ended up being quite close to the production car, and the way BMW is framing this new “Neue Klasse” tells me it might actually be a decent look at what’s to come from the Bavarian brand. I mean, there’s even a manufacturing plant associated with this concept. Here it is from BMW itself:
“With the Neue Klasse, we have embarked on the biggest investment in the company’s history. We are not just writing the next chapter of BMW; we’re writing a whole new book. That’s why the Neue Klasse will certainly impact all model generations.”
Manufactured at the new plant in Debrecen entirely without fossil fuels and with much wider use of raw and secondary materials produced with reduced CO2, the Neue Klasse will also provide significant impetus for resource-efficient individual mobility. High energy efficiency during the vehicle use phase will be ensured by optimizing weight, air and rolling resistance, as well as through intelligent heat management, especially for the electric drivetrain, using sixth-generation BMW eDrive technology.
In addition to highly efficient electric motors, major advances in the new BMW eDrive technology include newly-developed round battery cells, with more than 20% higher energy density than that of the prismatic cells used previously. The sixth generation of BMW eDrive technology will improve the charging speed for Neue Klasse models by up to 30%, in addition to boosting their range by up to 30%. As a result of all these measures, overall vehicle efficiency will increase by up to 25%.
Per Inside EVs, Neue Klasse represents the debut of an entirely new 800-volt platform that uses cylindrical cells. From the EV-focused site:
BMW has already said that Neue Klasse EVs will use newly developed Gen 6 cylindrical cells that are expected to improve energy density by more than 20 percent, charging speed by more than 30 percent and range by 30 percent compared to the carmaker’s current battery technology.
The cells will also be 50 percent cheaper to build and installed straight into the battery pack, eliminating the module layer. BMW said the cells will use a nickel-based chemistry with reduced cobalt content, but Zipse also promised additional battery technologies.
In November 2022, BMW revealed some key specs of the 800-volt Neue Klasse platform to Car Magazine, including outputs ranging from 268 horsepower to 1,341 horsepower, RWD and AWD configurations with up to four electric motors, batteries ranging from 75 kWh to 150 kWh, and a driving range of up to 621 miles (1,000 kilometers).
Which Cars Is This “Neue Klasse” Foreshadowing?
Clearly this isn’t “just a concept,” and if you want an opinion from someone way more qualified than I am, you should read some words from my friend and BMW expert Horatio Boeriu over at BMW Blog. His article discusses the six models that this new concept car might be previewing:
Today, BMW unveiled the Vision Neue Klasse, a concept car that previews a new design language and technology. Although BMW has not officially confirmed it as the future 3 Series electric (i3), there is very little doubt about that. The first-ever Neue Klasse electric vehicle is scheduled for 2025, but it won’t be the i3.
He predicts that the first Neue Klasse model will be a crossover. From the BMW-guru:
Our sources indicate that the iX3 electric crossover will take center stage as the first Neue Klasse model. The new iX3, with the chassis code NA5, will enter production in Debrecen in the summer of 2025.
Then comes the new i3 (which should look like the concept we see here), Boeriu predicts:
The Neue Klasse-based 3 Series electric will be called the BMW i3 and will arrive in 2026. Clearly, it will be largely based on the Vision Neue Klasse concept we saw today.
I don’t want to steal Boeriu’s thunder, so I’ll let you read the rest of the list on his site, but suffice it to say: This concept car actually means something for BMW as a brand. And those efficiency/charging claims are no joke. BMW is making big promises.
BMW Going Up Against Tesla
Reuters does a good job of putting this vehicle into context, referencing the old BMW “Neue Klasse,” and how it got BMW out of a pickle:
The company’s leaders put all their chips behind a new car they called the “Neue Klasse,” or “new class.” Launched in 1962 as the BMW 1800, the Neue Klasse set the German automaker on course to become “the ultimate driving machine” company and one of the most successful brands in any industry.
[Editor’s Note: The original Neue Klasse was BMW’s big bet on its future existence. With styling by Wilhelm Hofmeister (he’s where the Hofmeister Kink comes from), it launched as the four-door 1500 model with a 1.5-liter M10 four-cylinder engine, semi-trailing arm rear suspension, and front disc brakes, it was the predecessor to the 5 Series. A coupe followed in 1965, and the famous 02 Series followed in 1966 built on cut-down Neue Klasse underpinnings. Needless to say, this car was a huge deal. It also helped that German carmaker Borgward, known for its midsize Isabella, entered liquidation in 1961, effectively opening up a hole in the market big enough for BMW to slot several hundred thousand sedans through. — TH]
The publication says BMW is yet again at a crossroads, and the new “Neue Klasse” represents a vision to end up on the other side of those crossroads victorious. A big part of this means competing with newcomers, especially Tesla (Tesla being a newcomer only in relative terms). From Reuters:
“We want to make this vehicle generation so modern that it looks like we skipped one generation,” BMW Chief Designer Adrian van Hooydonk said. “That is necessary because of those new players that are coming in. You know the debate that’s been going on: Oh, traditional OEM (manufacturer) over 100 years old, can you make this step? We can and we want to.”
The story goes on:
BMW’s new compact models will enter a competitive segment where Tesla has started a price war. BMW has not announced prices for the Neue Klasse.
“It will be a very competitive offer,” Chief Executive Oliver Zipse told reporters ahead of the show. “We will not price ourselves out of this market.”
Tesla has also redrawn the business model around the vehicle – selling directly to customers, using over-the-air software upgrades to add features and constantly capturing vehicle data to improve driver assistance and other features.
“There is a multi faceted transformation that needs to take place” for established automakers such as BMW, said Evangelos Simoudis, a Silicon Valley venture capital investor and expert on vehicle software strategies.
Neue Klasse vehicles will be powered by 48-millimeter-diameter cylindrical batteries in different lengths. The batteries are similar in size and shape to those Tesla plans to use in its Cybertruck and other models.
The User Interface Seems…Odd
You may notice in the interior a lack of buttons. Most car folks that I know don’t like this, but here’s what BMW has in mind:
Analogue operating controls have been reduced to a minimum in the BMW Vision Neue Klasse. Human-car interaction takes place through the BMW Panoramic Vision, the Central Display, and multifunction buttons on the steering wheel. The user experience is rounded out by the sophisticated voice control of the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant. In this way, the next generation of BMW iDrive offers a modern interpretation of the driver orientation typical of BMW.
As it did with the introduction of the BMW iDrive controller in the center console and the BMW Head-Up Display, BMW is once again leading the world with BMW Panoramic Vision, which will be available for the first time in the Neue Klasse. Information is projected at the ideal height into the driver’s line of sight and, for the first time, across the entire width of the windscreen. This innovation will complement the enhanced BMW Head-Up Display in the production models of the Neue Klasse.
In the next generation of BMW iDrive, both the driver and front passenger are able to interact with information displayed on BMW Panoramic Vision, creating a shared user experience. Drivers can move content shown on the Central Display to the BMW Panoramic Vision with a simple gesture.
“BMW Panoramic vision”— basically a gigantic head-up display on the windshield. Per Reuters, this wasn’t exactly easy to develop, with the technology apparently having fairly significant implications at the platform level. From Reuters:
Developing the large-scale windshield displays has not been easy, Durach said in an interview. “It goes deep into the overall architecture of the car. You get rid of the instrument cluster, you do your steering wheels in a different way.”
[Editor’s Note: Don’t let the glitz and glamor fool you, BMW Panoramic Vision is still an instrument cluster of sorts. This high-mounted instrument cluster may sound strange, but Honda found success with a similar concept in the 2006 Civic. Given how the concept’s greenhouse sits substantially lower than its cowl, expect the top of the display to be essentially level with the hood. The bottom line? This isn’t entirely unlike anything we’ve seen before. — TH]
What Do You Think?
As for my thoughts on how what might be the future electric 3 Series (i3) looks? Though BMW says the design “embodies a clear design language, with expansive surfaces and a just a few distinctive lines, that has been pared down to the essentials” and that “This approach accentuates signature features like the BMW kidney grille and the Hofmeister kink of the side window graphic, giving the design even more of a BMW feel,” I’m not sure I’d say this is that BMW-ish of a design. That Hofmeister Kink looks awfully sharp, and that kidney grille doesn’t look that kidney-ish. The whole thing is a bit edgy and blocky; I agree with the second part of this quote from BMW, particularly the “monolithic” bit:
Powerful wheel arches, the inset greenhouse, and steeply forward-slanting “shark nose” front end are all characteristic BMW features. 21-inch aerodynamic wheels pay tribute to the classic cross-spoke design inspired by motorsports. At the same time, the almost monolithic vehicle body, with strong indentations at the front and rear, as well as large window areas, create a new aesthetic.
I like the greenhouse; in general, I find glass to be beautiful, so I tend to prefer as much of it as possible. I like the colorful, airy-looking interior; I’d love some physical switches, but design-wise, I’m liking what I see in that cabin. I’m curious to hear what you, dear readers, think.
All Images: BMW