New 2021 BMW i1 electric hatch to join range

BMW's i boss reveals plans for 12 electric cars by 2023, with an electric version of the 1 Series set to arrive within the next two years

BMW i1 - front (watermarked)

BMW bosses have exclusively revealed to Auto Express that an entry-level, electric hatchback based on the 1 Series is in the product plan. And it could be here as early as 2021.

The German firm has outlined an electrification strategy under which 12 fully electric cars and 13 plug-in hybrids will arrive in showrooms in the next four years. BMW is targeting the more premium and more profitable segments initially; the first to arrive will be the iX3 SUV, followed by the i4 saloon and then BMW’s technological flagship, the iNEXT SUV.

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However, the head of BMW’s i Division, Robert Irlinger, has now suggested that BMW’s flexible vehicle architectures will allow the firm to explore the option to develop more affordable and smaller electric vehicles. “Even in the front-drive architecture you will see fully electrified cars,” he told us. “You will see electrification in our whole portfolio. We can rework our front-wheel-drive as well as the rear-wheel-drive platforms and both are able to show all technologies – our customers have the power of choice.

“Whatever they demand they can get – a plug-in hybrid X3, a fully-electric 4 Series, too. That’s a big step and a big change in our strategy.”

As previewed by our exclusive image, BMW’s strategy for its range of electric cars is to keep them visually similar to their conventionally powered counterparts. It’s expected that an electric 1 Series will simply be marked out by flashes of brighter bodywork and a blanked-off front grille.

The flexibility of the firm’s platforms will also enable BMW to offer the electric hatch with the option of two electric motors, to give four-wheel drive, or a single motor that will deliver front-drive at a lower price point. 

The i4 gives a clear hint at the naming strategy, with Irlinger revealing that it will be an all-electric version of the next 4 Series Gran Coupé. “The i4 is the four-door sports sedan, fully electrified, clearly visible as an iCar,” he explained. “You can see the concept of the 4 Series as a two-door coupé and the i4 is going be the four-door coupé – it’s going to be based on the concept, but it’s fully electric.”

With the iX3 and i4 confirmed, the X5-sized iNext could be badged iX5. With that in mind, it would be logical for an electric 1 Series to wear an i1 badge and for an electric 3 Series to wear an i3 badge, but where would that leave the car that started the i brand off, the current i3?

Irlinger added fuel to the rumours that the i3 as we know it won’t be replaced. “We are not in the normal process of having a car that has to have a successor.”

What do you think of our exclusive BMW i1 image? Let us know your thoughts below...

Editor-in-chief

Steve Fowler has been editor-in-chief of Auto Express since 2011 and is responsible for all editorial content across the website and magazine. He has previously edited What Car?, Autocar and What Hi-Fi? and has been writing about cars for the best part of 30 years. 

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