BMW revamps R&D for new era of self-driving cars

Fri Jun 3, 2016 12:52pm EDT
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By Edward Taylor and Irene Preisinger

MUNICH (Reuters) - BMW is overhauling its research and development activities to focus on self-driving cars, board member Klaus Froehlich told Reuters, a move which includes a revamp of its "i" sub-brand of carbon-fibre based electric vehicles.

The company is updating its zero-emission vehicles after a lackluster response to its only fully battery-powered car, the i3, which recorded only 25,000 sales last year. By contrast, Tesla already has more than 370,000 orders for its Model 3.

To help improve sales, BMW (BMWG.DE: Quote) is increasing the battery range of its i3 city vehicle by 50 percent this year.

Its next full-fledged new electric car model is not due until 2021, but the Bavarian auto maker is also planning to build a new version of its i3 electric car to be released by 2018, a source familiar with the matter said.

"It is a sportier brother for the i3," said the source, who declined to be named.

Rival Tesla (TSLA.O: Quote) is due to release its Model 3 in 2017, and as rivals Porsche and Audi are working on all-electric cars for release by 2019.

A new BMW flagship model with autonomous driving capabilities will follow in 2021. As a result, Froehlich is increasing the proportion of software and technology experts.

Today, software engineers make up just 20 percent of the 30,000 employees, contractors and suppliers that work on research and development for BMW. Within the next five years, BMW wants to raise that proportion to 50 percent of overall R&D staff.   Continued...

BMW's first all-electric car, i3, is unveiled at a ceremony in Beijing July 29, 2013.   REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo