By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. As the global auto industry goes head-first into electrification and autonomous vehicle development, the concern has been growing among enthusiasts and people who just like the act of driving as in, what’s in it for us?
We are being inundated with press release after press release regurgitating the details about the latest autonomous development, and I have to admit that it’s leaving me stone cold. Yes, well off into the future I can see limited usage for AVs, but for most people who grew up with the desire to drive, and the accumulated experiences and adventures – not to mention the individual freedom of mobility – that came from hitting the road, blind fealty to the notion of AVs is about as compelling as leftover oatmeal.
Yes, of course, I appreciate the technology, and I can see that handing over the control of a vehicle in certain situations – abominable traffic congestion, chaotic city driving, I-80 in Nebraska, etc. – might be the most expedient course of action. But just checking out and becoming totally removed from the act of driving? I’m not interested, and I am quite certain that there are plenty of people out there who feel the same way.
So, I am encouraged by the news coming from BMW this week, because this company is recognizing the fact that there will be plenty of situations in the future where people will want to experience the act of driving for themselves, and it intends on building vehicles that will accommodate that notion.
BMW announced that in the future, its drivers will be able to choose whether they wish to be driven or do the driving themselves. According to BMW PR minions: “With the BMW Vision M NEXT, the BMW Group is revealing its take on how driving pleasure might look in future for those who enjoy taking the wheel themselves. It offers a foretaste of the BMW M brand’s electrified future by placing the focus squarely on the actively engaged driver. Intelligent technologies on board provide comprehensive yet carefully targeted assistance to turn them into the ultimate driver.”
(Images of the BMW Vision M Next from BMW)
According to BMW, “EASE” encompasses all the experiences during a journey when the vehicle assumes the task of driving. “Here, the vehicle is transformed into a living space on four wheels, where the passengers can feel safe and secure. From rest and relaxation, via talking, interacting and enjoying in-car entertainment, all the way to maximum concentration – the experiences on offer with the EASE concept are as varied as the occupants’ needs.”
“BOOST,” on the other hand, stands for the ultimate active driving experience. “The BMW Vision M NEXT provides a glimpse into the future of sporty driving,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design. “Where the BMW Vision iNEXT illustrated how autonomous driving is set to transform life on board our vehicles, the BMW Vision M NEXT demonstrates how state-of-the-art technology can also make the experience of driving yourself purer and more emotionally engaging. In both models, the focus is firmly on the people inside. Design and technology make the ‘EASE’ and ‘BOOST’ experiences more natural and more intense.”
The BMW Vision M NEXT concept features a Power PHEV drive system offering the choice between electric all-wheel drive and pure rear-wheel drive, with either all-electric propulsion or the power of a turbocharged four-cylinder ICE. System output of 441 kW (600HP) produces a top speed of 186 mph (300 km/h) and enables the BMW Vision M NEXT to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just three seconds. There is also a BOOST+ mode that puts extra power on tap at the push of a button. The maximum range when driving in all-electric mode is 100 km (62 miles). This allows the BMW Vision M NEXT to also be suitable for use in city centers where zero-emissions zones may come into force in the future.
That BMW is on to something here is worth noting. It is staunchly reinforcing its fundamental raison d’etre by emphasizing the driver and the act of driving. I would be thoroughly disappointed if BMW – of all automotive brands – decided to do anything else, even though they have been lost in the woods on more than one occasion of late.
But make no mistake, the other premium luxury-performance players on the automotive scene will offer something much like what BMW is promising. Because in the future, when it comes to mobility – which will be parsed into a million little subsets – brand image wrangling will take on an even more crucial importance.
Consider Porsche, for instance. That Porsche is working on the exact same philosophy as BMW for its future vehicles is no surprise. Why? Because without the pure and emotional essence of driving, why bother shelling out serious dough-re-mi for a Porsche? There will be no reason to, unless, of course, Porsche continues to offer the kind of driving experience Porsche has become known for.
And the same goes for Ferrari. That you will be able to enter a city center in full-electric mode will be a given, and then when you exit the city you will be able to engage the full thrust of the Ferrari driving experience. And you can bet that Aston Martin, Bentley, Cadillac (V-Series), Corvette, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, etc., etc., will all do the same.
Going forward, two things will differentiate the luxury-performance players from the mere commodity cars: Design and Performance.
Design will continue to be the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator of course, but the luxury-performance brands that adhere to their missions by emphasizing the pure essence of driving will enjoy the most success.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.