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BMW readying Tesla-rivaling electric i concept car

BMW's i sub-brand is set to show off a four-door electric show car at the Frankfurt Motor Show amid plans for 25 electrified cars by 2025.

BMW Vision Next 100

BMW is putting some big numbers to its electrification efforts. At a media event in Munich on Thursday ahead of next week's Frankfurt Motor Show, the automaker announced plans to bring to market at least 25 electrified vehicles by 2025 -- 13 of which will be fully electric. The new models are expected to be marketed through all of BMW AG's brands, including Mini and Rolls-Royce, but may also include BMW Motorrad, its motorbike division.

Most interestingly, Harald Krüger, BMW chairman of the board, revealed Tuesday that his company will show a four-door, pure-electric concept car in Frankfurt under its i sub-brand. The car will be designed to slot between its i3 electric urban runabout and i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe. Few concrete details were revealed about the coming show car, but reading between the lines, it's clear that BMW is incubating a Tesla competitor -- likely a rival for the Model 3. The car's design is expected to be influenced by the Vision Next 100 (shown below), a futurethink concept vehicle designed to commemorate BMW's centennial.

In addition to the unnamed i concept, BMW has already confirmed plans to show a battery-powered Mini Cooper concept in Frankfurt, with plans for production in 2019. BMW has also pledged to launch a battery-electric version of its upcoming X3 compact crossover by 2020.  

But the German automaker isn't just pinning its future hopes on those cars -- according to Klaus Fröhlich, a BMW board member, beginning in 2020, all new BMW models will be developed to offer all types of powertrains, including internal combustion, plug-in hybrid and pure electric. Availability of each type of propulsion system will vary, but flexible manufacturing and modular architectures will allow for local demands to set what type of models will be available. The company is focusing much of its platform development hopes on two new architectures, one rear-wheel-drive based and the other front-wheel drive.

Even though some of its fourth-generation electrification technologies have yet to hit the market, the company says it's already looking forward to marketing its fifth-generation e-powertrain hardware by 2021, which will launch on the production version of its iNEXT concept, which is intended to spearhead the company's autonomous drive efforts. On the lower-cost end of development, the automaker will leverage everything from 48-volt systems to a new generation of plug-in hybrid powertrain that reaches up to 100 km (62 miles) of pure-electric range in its bid to further green its lineup. 

Despite these aggressive electrification plans, Krüger cautioned against a growing trend among cities and nations discussing setting goal dates to ban internal combustion engines, and in particular, diesel. "Customer demands cannot be forced, they must be anticipated and met ... therefore we do not advocate driving bans and quotas," he said. Kruger cited a need for improved infrastructure to accommodate both battery electric cars and fuel-cell vehicles as part of road to consumer acceptance. 

It's not hard to understand Krüger's aversion to such government targets -- despite his company making significant investments in revolutionizing the way it builds automobiles, that effort hasn't yet been rewarded in sales. The first public fruits of BMW's electrification effort, the aforementioned i3 and i8, first hit the market in 2013. Thus far, both have met with very limited sales success, reflecting a larger trend of consumer apathy towards electric cars.