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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

BMW Project-i: Paradigm shifting for rich folk

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Car magazine is carrying a story regarding the development of the Project-i vehicles, BMW’s oft talked about but as yet unseen foray into the future of urban transportation.

That BMW is putting it’s weight behind such a programme is laudable. As I’ve often remarked on these pages, a radical shift in thinking regarding how we move about our urban centres will be vital to the return to good health of the automotive industry. It’s just a little galling that BMW is sticking to the notion that these vehicles must be “premium”.

Dr. Ulrich Kranz, the leader of Project-i, even goes so far as to say “They will not be Tata Nano rivals – no way! We can and will only build premium cars”. Wanting to distance his project from any associations with the tiny tot from India is understandable, having seen just how rudimentary it is (Euro facelift notwithstanding), but to stick to the concept that BMW will “…only build premium cars” seems a little short sighted.

Car also cites Shanghai and Mexico City, among others, as targets for the vehicles. Last time I checked Mexico City and Shanghai were flush with the cheapest wheels available, Beetles and bicycles respectively. These are not markets ripe for the introduction of premium urban mobility. They just need urban mobility full stop.

It’s been regularly discussed in the motoring press over the past year or two, and I see fit to bring it up again here: BMW is sitting on the perfect brand for reaching down out of their ivory tower and providing intelligent mobility for the masses. It’s called Isetta.

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Sure, it may not be terribly well known by name outside of Europe and groupings of predominantly old men who worship at the alter of slow, smelly and insane microcars of the mid-20th century. But nobody knew of Lexus when it launched, and it has done a passable job of establishing a presence for itself, answering a question nobody asked.

Crucially, Isetta has the all-important story behind it: it produced highly efficient, intelligent cars that intended to mobilise the masses. And as I’ve mentioned previously, having a great story is half the battle in getting people to fall in love with a new product.

Story aside, if BMW managed to nail a suite of solutions to urban mobility, no body would give a damn what it was called and whether it was “premium” or not. Our predicament is far more serious than that.

You can counter that the big changes in technology always start at the top of the market and work their way down (I remember when my first iPod cost €400 and held 500 more songs than the Shuffle that launched this week for €75. The thought of using it as a tie-clip was also a non-starter…). I honestly feel, however, that should we not work towards far-ranging, cross-market changes to the car industry, our recovery is going to be even more painful and protracted than we’re currently predicting.

According to Kranz it will be 2015 before we see the first fruit of his Project-i labour. From where I stand, we have until 2015 to convince him to spread the love.

[Source: Car Magazine][Images: Wiki Commons]

Category: Apple, Branding, Car, Design Strategy, Premium, Technology

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5 Responses

  1. Robin Brown says:

    Reports a year or so ago suggested that BMW had indeed seen the value of a new vehicle using the Isetta name, there were even some sketches around.

  2. drewpasmith says:

    Hi Robin, you’re right, there was a flurry of Isetta talk in late ’07/ early ’08 which culminated in Auto Express knocking together the sketch that you’re referring to. As yet we’ve had no official announcement or sketch work from BMW which is leaving me champing at the bit! They really could steal the show here, they just need to get on and do it!

  3. Robin Brown says:

    Ah yes, they were by Auto Express. That makes me rather more doubtful than it was anything more than a flight of fancy to be honest.

  4. […] back in March I wrote a piece discussing BMW’s Project-i. In it (you can read it here), I roused on BMW for taking such a high-minded approach in describing the […]

  5. […] back in March I wrote a piece discussing BMW’s Project-i. In it (you can read it here), I roused on BMW for taking such a high-minded approach in describing the […]

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