BMW’s Vision Next 100 concept car was driven on to the stage at the Olympic...

BMW Unveils Prototype of Car of Future – Wall Street Journal

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BMW’s Vision Next 100 concept car was driven on to the stage at the Olympic Hall in Munich on Monday. The vehicle will have a self-driving mode, BMW said.

MUNICH—BMW AG took the wraps off a new concept car on Monday that blends the design of its sporty coupes with that of a luxury sedan and is packed with futuristic technology including a digital “companion” in a nod to the future role of artificial intelligence in driving.

The vehicle, dubbed the Vision Next 100, is the company’s boldest statement yet of its conviction that emissions-free, self-driving vehicles are the way forward for the industry and as such hold the keys to BMW’s future. The question is: when?

“If it were up to me—tomorrow,” BMW Chief Executive Harald Krüger told reporters at the company’s presentation, adding that it was more likely to arrive “in the next 20 to 30 years.”

BMW and its rivals—Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen AG’s Audi—have come to dominate the world of premium cars through a combination of sleek design and horsepower. But as the age of electric vehicles dawns, upstarts such as Tesla Motors and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are stealing the old guard’s thunder. Now, after a century of automotive manufacturing, Mr. Krüger is under pressure to prove that his company hasn’t lost its mojo.

Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW’s chief designer, at the presentation in Munich on Monday. “As designers our job was to put a face on the future,” he said.

That’s why even if it is unlikely to roll into showrooms in its current form, the new concept car matters. It is a statement, both about what BMW is capable of now and how the Munich-based company needs to reshape itself to survive in a future industry powered by silicon rather than diesel.

BMW said in a statement that in the near future “most vehicles will probably be completely self-driving—people will get around in robots on wheels.” The challenge for BMW, company executives said, is to ensure the attraction and pleasure of car ownership even as car-sharing gains traction.

“We really believe in individual mobility,” Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW design, told reporters in Munich, as he presented the Vision Next 100. “As designers our job was to put a face on the future.”

The concept car says a lot about how BMW sees the industry developing. The vehicle has two modes.

In the Boost mode, the driver is in control—albeit with some extra gadgetry such as the digital companion, a full-display windshield that warns of obstacles and pedestrians in the car’s path as well as a 360-degree radar.

However, if the driver wants to relax or, say, participate in a video conference, he or she can switch to “Ease” mode and let the robot take control—with the video conference displayed on the windshield. If there are other passengers in the car, the driver can swivel the seat to face them.

The Vision Next 100 demonstrates the direction in which BMW wants to go after its i-Series of electric vehicles: the i3 battery-electric urban vehicle and the i8 hybrid sports car.

Those vehicles incorporated groundbreaking electric technology as well as new materials such as carbon fiber. The new concept car, for example, would incorporate extensive use of components printing, which BMW is calling 4D printing.

One thing that is still uncertain is what will power the vehicle. BMW is not yet willing to show its hand. While Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said recently that the scales are tipping in favor of battery-electric cars rather than fuel-cell, BMW’s Mr. Krüger would only say: “It will definitely be zero emissions. When you look around the world … there is no alternative to electric mobility.”

Write to William Boston at

BMW Unveils Prototype of Car of Future – Wall Street Journal