Tesla Prompts BMW To Consider An i5 Competitor

Tesla Motors could be likened to a gifted young student who’s an overachiever, good looking, an all-round athlete – and if it bluntly challenges the establishment, its occasionally ungracious attitudes perceived may be overlooked because the kid is doing so many things right.

At least that’s one interpretation given Tesla has derided the BMW i3 (pictured), and last week a high-level BMW official cited Tesla’s success, particularly in the U.S., as goading BMW to mull an i5 that could be proportioned similarly to Tesla’s Model S or pending Model X.

Tesla has at other times said it welcomes more players in the electric car market game, and it may get what it wishes for.

BMW’s engineers and product planners for its i brand are now seriously debating whether a proposed i5 might be a crossover or sedan with either all-electric or plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Whether the time is right for an i5 also happens to be up in the air for a project that appears to be moving forward, according to a “senior BMW source” quoted by UK’s What Car?

“We are having these discussions right now,” said the BMW insider, “and no decision has been taken. In fact, there’s still not an absolute decision that the car, if it is called i5, should even happen. Many, including myself, believe that there is potential. Then if we decide the car should happen, we need to decide if it is a regular sedan or something where the passengers are sitting slightly higher up.

“Then after that we need to decide whether a car of this size can be a fully electric edition, like the i3, or whether it needs to be a range-extender – or perhaps even a plug-in hybrid. That could ultimately be the best solution for that model; we don’t know yet.”

BMW i8

BMW i8

The insider was also quoted as saying the BMW i5 is “already in the works” and not withstanding the ultimate form it takes, the i5 will adhere to BMW i brand values with rear wheel drive, and much reliance on carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP).

“I think those things are pretty much guaranteed,” said the BMW insider.

Competitor, Complementary, or Both?

The path Tesla is taking has been called “disruptive” but depending on the competence, boldness, and risk tolerance of a given potential competitor, it just as well stands to be inspirational.

And this is no doubt fine for Tesla and electric vehicle advocates in general as the German maker of “Ultimate Driving Machines” is not shying away from the challenge, nor is it taking personally cracks made by Tesla.

Like an unabashed entrepreneurial upstart with lots of talent and perhaps some immaturity besides, Tesla has not held back its feelings against those who oppose it, including a remark made by Tesla board member Steve Jurvetson who told Fox network’s Melissa Francis that Tesla CEO Elon Musk and he “burst into laughter” over BMW’s plans for its i3.

“BMW itself said — and I’ve never heard any product release say this a year before its release — we’re not trying to make the best electric car, we’re building this vehicle because we have to for regulatory reasons,” Jurvetson said.

“They’re basically saying don’t judge us by this car and whether it’s any good or not a year before it’s released. It’s totally a different kind of product. It doesn’t have very good range and they’re putting in a gasoline lawnmower engine in there as a backup. It’s kind of an odd duck.”

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It’s also been said he who laughs last laughs best, and BMW is humbly taking note of Tesla and deciding whether its engineering criteria and capability is ready for the next i product that could be more of a direct competitor to the Model S and/or Model X.

And regardless of Tesla, the premier German automaker has otherwise embarked on an independent path in the same general direction, is capable of learning from mistakes if perceived, and is otherwise quietly driven by its own pride behind the scenes as are other automakers of this echelon.

Porsche has also stepped into the ring with a plug-in hybrid which is the first of more serious competitors to come, and Mercedes-Benz is also getting started with plug-in cars.

No doubt also, Tesla knows all this. While Elon Musk hasn’t held back views on what he calls half measures, a prevalent attitude among some in Silicon Valley is to embrace those who could just as well defeat them.

It is believed that more contenders vying toward the same goals in a market still being defined is how a high-risk, high-reward disruptive technology transcends from outcast status to mainstream, and research has shown as much.

Welcoming competitors is thus also a form of welcoming inadvertent collaboration, and BMW appears to be taking the bait as a market now underway has some predicting its early demise, others predicting its ultimate destiny, and in no case is it for the faint of heart or those with shallow pockets.

What Car?