BMW’s new iNEXT EV is about to take flight







A Lufthansa Cargo plane will ferry the BMW iNEXT and double as a showroom, hosting dozens of journalists at each stop on the tour.

BMW’s autonomous iNEXT electric crossover is no ordinary vehicle. And to launch it, BMW is taking to the skies.

In a round-the-world sprint spanning Sept. 9-14, BMW will fly the iNEXT in a Boeing 777 Freighter to press events in Munich, New York, San Francisco and Beijing, before returning to Frankfurt.

The Lufthansa Cargo aircraft won’t just ferry the flagship vehicle — it will double as a showroom, hosting dozens of journalists in each city.

“For us, it is really a new era of mobility that starts with this concept car,” Ingo Wirth, project lead for BMW’s Vision iNEXT World Flight, told Automotive News. “We thought we needed to do something differently.”

BMW is turning the typical vehicle launch on its head. Automakers traditionally transport the automotive press from around the world to a single location for a product unveiling.

“We said, ‘Why don’t we turn it around 180 degrees?’ ” Wirth said. “All the media representatives can stay at home and we’ll bring the car to them.”

BMW began discussions with German carrier Lufthansa about a year ago.

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“We are two premium mobility companies,” Wirth said of the German airline. “We have cooperations on other levels anyway with them.”

Logistics

But BMW will be jetting not just a vehicle. It will be moving the entire venue across three continents — a mission full of logistical, operational and security challenges.

Converting the freighter into a mobile presentation room involved retrofitting the aircraft with 4.5 miles of wiring, installing 78,000 LED lights and 10 projectors, and constructing a 30-ton stage.

Wirth: Many challenges

The logistics at each site must be choreographed precisely. The “presentation room” has to be assembled at each destination and then dismantled before the aircraft can take off.

Lighting systems, meanwhile, must be secured to withstand multiple takeoffs and landings. Each part must be protected against shocks and vibrations.

Switching quickly between presentation mode and flight mode will be another challenge.

“We need about eight hours to build up the inside of this cargo plane, and to dismantle it again we need about four hours,” Wirth said.

Hosting events at major airports on three continents means addressing a laundry list of additional security regulations.

“It’s not easy to get 100-120 people into an airport,” Wirth said. “They all need to be security checked. We came up with a concept that will not take hours.”

Development

The iNEXT, to be built in Germany beginning in 2021, is expected to be the first BMW vehicle to have autonomous driving technology developed jointly in a consortium that includes Mobileye, Intel, Continental and Magna.

The vehicle will launch with Level 3 autonomous driving technology — meaning drivers must supervise the system and be ready to take back control — and eventually incorporate Level 4 technology that will allow the vehicle to drive without human intervention in certain conditions.

The iNEXT enables safe, partially autonomous driving, BMW CEO Harald Krüger said at the company’s annual meeting in May.

“It is our modular system for the future,” Krüger said. “If that sounds a bit like Lego, that’s roughly the idea.”

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