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The all-seeing i: BMW to revamp electric sub-brand, shift focus toward autonomy

This overhaul is said to include a sportier i3, a new flagship and loads of new additions to the R&D team.

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MUNICH, GERMANY - MARCH 07: The headquarter of German automaker BMW is pictured after the celebration marking the 100th anniversary of BMW on March 7, 2016 in Munich, Germany. BMW began as a producer of aircraft engines in Germany during World War I, later began producing motorcycles and in 1928 its first automobiles. BMW AG is the parent company of BMW Group, which also owns the car brands Mini and Rolls-Royce. (Photo by Lennart Preiss/Getty Images)
Lennart Preiss, Getty Images

In May, BMW's shareholder meeting taught us that the Teutonic automaker plans to roll out a new flagship vehicle in 2021, allegedly called the BMW i Next. Up until recently, BMW's i sub-brand focused mainly on electricity (and freaking out Microsoft Word's auto-correct feature), but that's soon to change.

Reuters talked with both BMW board member Klaus Froehlich and an unnamed source, and it appears that BMW i is in for quite a change. While some of its efforts will remain focused on electricity, a great deal of its R&D muscle will shift to autonomous driving.

Reuters' source claims a new, sportier version of BMW's i3 is due to drop around 2018, partially based on the "lackluster response" to the vehicle as it currently exists. Along with this supposed new i3, BMW's CEO has already confirmed that the i8 Roadster is on the way, as is the aforementioned i Next, which will reportedly carry autonomous driving capabilities.

But there's a long time between now and 2021, and there's plenty of work to do in that time frame. Reuters claims that BMW will have software engineers comprising 50 percent of its R&D staff in that time. Currently, software engineers represent around 20 percent of BMW's R&D staff. It's also hiring experts in fields required in autonomous driving development, including machine learning.

If what BMW is cooking up looks anything like its absolutely bonkers Vision Next 100, all that ramp-up will be money well spent.

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