It isn ‘t often that new automative brands are born. Especially ones that fall under the BMW umbrella. However with BMWi we see both heritage and innovation when it comes to design. For instance the twin kidney grille is still there but notably absent are the Hofmeister kinks. So what are the basic building blocks of BMWi design? BMW has released an official listing of them suitable for use as a introduction the look of BMWi and a bit of a field guide perfect for friendly wagers.

Official Release: BMW i spells visionary vehicles and a new take on premium mobility that has sustainability very much at heart. Pivotal to the new BMW sub-brand are alternative drive systems that are specifically conceived for use in the city and dictate the design process from start to finish. BMW i sets out to rethink mobility and come up with pioneering solutions to the challenges posed by cars of the future. These are the driving forces behind the groundbreaking LifeDrive concept – a unique, purpose-built vehicle architecture geared to electric mobility and boasting highly innovative use of materials.
The BMW i designers have succeeded in developing a unique design language which also displays strong links with parent brand BMW. Innovative technologies are given a contemporary, authentic visual style, and the initial concept cars – the BMW i3 Concept and BMW i8 Concept – open up values such as lightness and efficiency to the naked eye. These cars herald the dawn of the new sub-brand and instantly highlight the potential of BMW i.

Running in the family: design features from parent brand BMW.

BMW i references its parent brand BMW clearly through the use of design themes such as absolute precision, lightness and clean modernity. Picking up on hallmark BMW design features allows BMW i design to maintain a clear connection to its parent brand. However, BMW i also takes a whole new look at various stylistic elements, giving the sub-brand’s vehicles a distinctive identity. To this end, a three-dimensional blue ring has been added to the outside of the BMW badge for the BMW i logo. A fresh interpretation of the classic BMW kidney grille reflects the inspiration provided by its parent brand for the BMW i face. With their horizontally sectioned headlights, the BMW i cars share the intent look familiar from BMW models but add a flavour all of their own.

The BMW i “next premium” claim.

“Clean”, “clever” and “premium” are three key words in BMW i design. BMW i cars take the idea of premium to the next level to meet the demands of the future: “next premium” defines comfort, functionality and aesthetics beyond the usual perceptions of higher standards. Never before have sustainability and premium been combined in this depth. Preserving resources was a key consideration in the development of materials, for example. The design of the interior puts renewable and naturally treated raw materials on open display for the first time. The new LifeDrive architecture gave the designers the freedom to introduce a clean-sheet design for the interior. Only genuinely premium, clean and clever features were included. The result is a contemporary, pared-down aesthetic which reduces weight without the need to compromise on functionality. The design of the exterior uses a stimulating design language to communicate this new approach. Transparency and the use of contrasting colours bring the cars’ lightweight design to the attention of the observer. The extremely clean, minimalist surfaces have been conceived to lend visual impact to the sub-brand’s all-embracing sustainability concept.

Typically BMW i: model-specific design features.

LifeDrive architecture.

The purpose-built basic construction of the BMW i models – the LifeDrive architecture – represents their single most defining feature. Within this concept, the carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) Life module houses the passenger compartment, while the Drive module brings together all the operational driving functions.
This distinctive two-way split is also reflected in the design of the cars. The modules are partly covered by plastic side panels, but remain clearly distinguishable. Expressive surfaces and precise lines form a harmonious transition between the two. This overlap and interlocking of surfaces and lines – “layering” in BMW i speak – marks out the exterior and interior design of the vehicles. This striking interplay highlights the linking together of the individual structures and their arrangement within the framework of the LifeDrive architecture.


The aerodynamically optimised “stream flow” represents one of the most striking design themes of BMW i. Two horizontal lines converge from above and below – like streaks of air in the wind tunnel – into a dynamic C-pillar sweep. These lines are expressed in different ways depending on the model. Among the other aerodynamically significant features which double up as hallmark elements of BMW i design are large and relatively narrow wheels, as well as aerodynamic elements such as AirCurtains (which channel the air flow around the wheel arches) and the aeroflaps behind the front wheels.

Lightweight design and efficiency

BMW i design uses lightness and efficiency to give the sub-brand’s innovative drive technology a fitting showcase. These central values are expressed in the design of the vehicles through large transparent surfaces and a light-bathed interior, a powerful stance and aerodynamic additions such as contact surfaces, spoiler lips and elements allowing air through-flow. This high degree of transparency imbues the cars with an airy feel, while the generously-sized glass surfaces give an optimum view outside.

The impressive swathes of exposed CFRP reflect the lightness and efficiency of both vehicles. As a central element of efficient mobility, aerodynamics play a key role in reducing fuel consumption. The design of the BMW i vehicles uses numerous aerodynamic measures to reduce the cars’ drag substantially, increasing their efficiency – and therefore their range when running on electric power alone.

Rear lights.

BMW i introduces a fresh interpretation of the familiar BMW rear light design. The intricately-worked U-shaped rear lights use state-of-the-art LED technology and are designed for maximum efficiency, in terms of both their space requirement and energy usage. Their distinctive looks also ensure the BMW i vehicles are clearly identifiable during the hours of darkness.

Black band.

Another distinctive design feature is best viewed from above; a black band rises out of the bonnet just behind the kidney grille and continues over the roof to the rear, creating a visual link between the different sections of the car.
“We take our responsibility very seriously when it comes to the mobility of the future and the future of our society,” says Benoit Jacob, Head of BMW i Design, with reference to the BMW i sub-brand. “We are in no doubt of the need to take a fresh view of things going forward. That’s why, at BMW i, we’ve been asking ourselves a host of questions which challenge many of the things we currently take for granted. Every design element in the creative process was subjected to three fundamental questions: Does it meet our definition of premium? How clean is it? How clever is it? And those questions provoked some revolutionary responses. Suffice to say, rarely has the future promised so much.”

Head of BMWi Design: Benoit Jacob

Benoit Jacob has been Head of Design for BMW i, the new BMW sub-brand, since 2010. His approach to design has been a resolute pursuit of sustainability which goes far beyond customary automotive design work. It’s a challenge the unconventional Frenchman embraces, since he sees himself as a kind of “special design unit”. His path to this point was predestined; for Benoit Jacob there has never been anything else but cars, and he was aged just ten when he made up his mind to be a car designer. Today this laid-back creative talent is distinguished by an inexhaustible curiosity, a fascination with masterpieces of engineering, and a consuming passion for his work.

The apprentice years: a beeline for the target.

Benoit Jacob is different from most people. Conventions are a bit of a thorn in his flesh and he generally prefers to take the direct route. This was true of his training, just as much as it is of his work today. Even the way he got into the industry was unusual: after leaving school, Benoit Jacob simply presented his portfolio of sketches to Renault and was hired on the spot for a year’s work experience. This was followed by a course in one of the motor industry’s most important crucibles of executive talent, the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland. After all, even for an unconventional creative spirit like Jacob it is essential to know the rules before playing around with them in an inventive way. After completing his design degree he continued his career with Renault, where he was responsible for the design of various concepts and models. His time with Renault had a profound influence on him and opened his eyes to the multifaceted nature of his profession. For him design is a holistic, all-embracing discipline which involves far more than sketching cars. Above all it requires close collaboration with specialists from the engineering side, from marketing and from research and development. Benoit Jacob very quickly took on board the interdisciplinary character of his job, and as Head of BMW i Design he is now passing it on to his team – head to head and heart to heart.

His philosophy: vision as a guide to action.

For Benoit Jacob, design is a culture strongly influenced by vision. This is innately connected with the fact that car design is anchored in the future. The drawings a designer produces today must endure for the next ten to fifteen years. But the visionary image also fits well with the idea of automobile design as a comprehensive discipline, in which an overview of all the factors affecting the final form is of crucial importance. Vision is an all-round perspective which allows the widest possible scope for action. The aim is always to develop a car that is intended to meet all its users’ needs, without exception. With BMW i his aspiration even goes a step further: here Benoit Jacob is aiming to develop a culture of his own, a culture of sustainable mobility.

On the personal side.

As a Frenchman, Benoit Jacob has a great penchant for pleasures of the gastronomic kind. He also spends many of his holidays with his family in France. Benoit Jacob lives in Munich with his wife and son.