BMW has announced plans for its i Division to join the burgeoning Formula E series. It won't be the first German manufacturer to enter a factory-backed car in the pure-electric category, but the move signals a strong focus on electro-mobility from the suits in Munich.
Although it hasn't been an active competitor, BMW i has been involved with Formula E from the very start. Its i8 has been used as the safety car since the category started in 2014, but there were a few issues with the series that prevented the partnership from evolving. Those roadblocks, such as BMW's objection to cars being swapped mid-race – akin to a fuel stop in traditional car races – are set to be removed in Formula E's fifth season, which kicks off in 2018.
"Because it is very important for us to demonstrate our technological expertise, we have shown a firm commitment to this project through the registration of BMW AG as an official manufacturer and are facing up to the growing competition there," says BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt. "The changes we required for our involvement will come into effect in Season 5 – these include, for example, the omission of the car changeover."
Along with some welcome publicity, BMW is hoping Formula E will help it develop the electric powertrains showing up a wide range of its production cars. Although the i8 and i3 are the most recognizable EVs in the range, iPerformance hybrid powertrains are available in an ever-growing number of models, making electrification a big part of BMW's future.
BMW will be developing its own powertrain in conjunction with Andretti Autosport ahead of the 2018/19 season, at which point it will line up alongside Audi and Jaguar.
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