BMW has taken one more step toward a future of autonomous vehicles.
The German luxury automaker is changing its “i” division, which is primarily focused on electric vehicles, to now focus more on autonomous cars, at least according to Reuters, which cites a BMW board member.
That’s a major change for BMW, and it flies somewhat in the face of the competition. Not only is Tesla’s Model 3 scheduled to debut in 2017, but Porsche and Audi are slated to release electric cars in 2019, while BMW’s next EV isn’t scheduled to launch until 2021.
Struggling sales of the i3 range-extended electric, which moved just 25,000 units last year, could be part of the reason behind the change.
BMW board member Klaus Froehlich, who heads up development, told Reuters in an interview that he’s switched the focus of the i division in April. “It is now in ramp-up stage. We call it Project i Next,” he said.
This follows the departure of four key executives from the division. Meanwhile, BMW is working to integrate existing autonomous-driving technologies, such as lane-keeping assist and automatic parking assist, together.
Froelich also said it could follow in the steps of other automakers such as Toyota, General Motors, and Volkswagen, and launch a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles. Without the need to pay drivers, costs would relatively low, and it would be a way for BMW to fight back against the dent that current ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have put into car sales – the easy availability of these services means that some people are choosing not to buy vehicles.