BMW i8 Plug-in Hybrid May Go All Electric

BMW’s i division is hard at work building a secret prototype battery-powered i8 sports car which could result in the coupe discarding the plug-in hybrid powertrain and going fully electric in the future.

According to sources speaking to British publication Autocar, the plan is the electric i8 will be based on the i division’s carbon fiber structure developed for the i8-looking fuel cell research vehicle revealed last year.

Featuring a wider center tunnel than the standard i8, the new structure enables placement of cylindrical hydrogen fuel tanks – and this space will now house batteries for the BEV.

“The idea is to use the space within the widened center tunnel to house the battery instead of the hydrogen tanks,” an official with knowledge of the proposal currently in front of BMW’s development head, Klaus Fröhlich, revealed to Autocar.

The new four-wheel drive i8 prototype will be powered by three new brushless electric motors that insiders say can deliver 268 horsepower — each. The production i8 hybrid produces 357 horsepower.

One motor will be mounted up front, the other two at the rear in the space taken by the existing i8’s 1.5-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine.

Developed by BMW, the motors are claimed to operate at a much higher internal speed than the production units used by the current i8

“BMW has a great history of high-revving combustion engines,” said Autocar’s insider source. “We’re looking to take this tradition into the electric car arena with electric motors that rev far higher than those seen in production today.”

SEE ALSO: BMW i8 Is 2015 World Green Car

Before the electric version arrives, the current plug-in hybrid i8 is getting a refresh with a planned 2017 arrival.

Seen testing on the streets of Munich, Germany, the restyled car borrows from the company’s i8-based Formula E safety car.

Spy shots show styling changes to the front, with the rear getting a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic tailgate incorporating eight individual air vents that replace the glass window used by the standard i8.

Changes to the powertrain are rumored to be a larger lithium-ion battery with engine output boosted to 390 horsepower.