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Car and Driver: BMW i8 Refresh Coming, But New Models Still Years Away

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2015 BMW i8Following news that several senior team members at BMW’s i division have defected to a Chinese electric startup, the company is predictably keen to downplay any suggestion of a crisis.

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“People at this level will always move around,” a BMW insider told us when we asked for reaction to the fact that i’s design boss Benoit Jacob, product chief Henrik Wenders, and senior powertrain engineer Dirk Abendroth will be joining the i division’s former development chief Carsten Breitfeld at Future Mobility Corp. “It’s not like there aren’t people waiting in the wings,” we were told.

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When we spoke to Wenders at the Geneva motor show, he suggested there was some internal debate about the exact form that the next i product will take, and our source confirmed that future models are some ways off. It was suggested that the car that’s most likely to be called the i5 is still some two to three years away, as is the i8 Spider. A story in Autocar suggests that the i8 coupe will receive a mid-cycle refresh very soon that will increase both its performance and range through a more powerful battery pack and electric motor, but our source has confirmed that—while BMW remains fully committed to the i division—there are no other significant new i models in the company’s long-term plan at present.

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The i3 has struggled to win sales in those parts of the world that don’t offer subsidies for electric vehicles, with low numbers presumably making it harder for BMW to justify large investments in new product. That could change, with reports from Germany saying that country’s government is moving towards offering incentives for the sale of battery-electric cars for the first time.

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That news came after the defection of the i managers was announced, with the four departing for what they presumably hope will be greener pastures on the far side of the world. Future Mobility is backed by vast Chinese industrial Tencent Holdings and is part of what looks like a rush towards e-mobility by Chinese conglomerates: Rival LeEco is one of the major backers of EV startup Faraday Future in the U.S. We could well be seeing more announcements like this as the epicenter of electrical mobility moves east.

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