The BMW i5 isn’t even expected to be released until 2021, but already, people are pronouncing it the killer of the Tesla Model 3. A key question is whether Tesla will be able to get far enough ahead of the i5 between this year and 2021, and it’s unclear that it can. The EV maker has no experience in mass-market manufacturing, and analysts highly doubt it can ramp production on the Model 3 as fast as it says it can.
So why do so many believe see the BMW i5 as a threat to the Model 3? It’s about the design and the technology —two areas Tesla has dominated in the world of electric vehicles for years.
BMW i5 may introduce new battery tech
Auto Express published a series of exclusive images of the BMW i5 this week showing off the electric car’s design. It takes cues from last year’s Vision Next 100 Concept, which BMW showed off in connection with its 100-year anniversary. The automaker has reportedly been referring to the car as the iNext, but Auto Express reports that it will bear the i5 name, slotting it into the same series as the i3 and i8.
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The design will make it clear that the car is a BMW based on the proportions, the “short overhangs,” the grille, the light treatment and other features, a spokesperson for the automaker told the website. But going beyond the obvious visual cues, the BMW i5 will also likely bring a “new approach to interior design and space, thanks to new battery tech,” Ian Robertson told the website.
He expects the iNext phase to bring “much stronger volume proportions” and smaller, thinner batteries without any “wet and sticky stuff inside them.” He added that the batteries will be solid state and will be able to be packaged easier than the batteries that are currently used in electric vehicles.
BMW i5 to bring level five autonomous driving
Perhaps the gold standard of upcoming luxury automobiles is autonomous driving, and Robertson expects the i5 to roll out with level-three autonomous tech. That means the car has total control of all functions, although the driver can take over whenever it becomes necessary. However, he said that at some point after the car is launched, it will become capable of level four and even five autonomous driving, which means the driver doesn’t need to do much except enjoy the ride.
A big part of the i5’s ability to do that is the Here mapping technology, which BMW purchased from Nokia in a joint venture with Daimler and Volkswagen. The luxury automaker is also working with Mobile and Intel to hone its autonomous driving tech. The company expects the i5 to be the first fully autonomous car, although it admits that the tech isn’t ready yet.
What about the Tesla Model 3?
Tesla is known for making sleek, sporty cars, and the mass-market Model 3 is certain to be no exception to the rule. But for the i5 to really be a competitor here, it’s going to come down to the price. Tesla has advertised the Model 3 as starting at $35,000, aiming to make it appealing to the average car buyer rather than the current luxury buyers who do fork over $100,000 or more for the Model S or Model X. BMW is not known for making vehicles for the general population, but the i series has been offered in different styles and price points.
It’s unclear what the BMW i5 will cost at launch, but the price will be a key deciding factor in whether it really will be a competitor for the Tesla Model 3.
And then there’s the launch date. Tesla has received hundreds of thousands of preorders for the Model 3, but it faces a huge challenge of cranking them out fast enough to please customers and keep them from canceling. Clearly, the i5 has also set a timer on the Model 3 ramp. If Tesla can’t ramp production fast enough, consumers might just cancel their preorders and buy a BMW i5 instead, especially since they might be able to buy one and drive it off the lot the same day rather than buying one online and then waiting months or even a year for it to arrive. It might seem like 2021 will give the company plenty of time to ramp production, but that year is probably going to come faster than Tesla would like.