The firm has launched a new vision of autonomous driving – but Klaus Frohlich insists the driver remains vital
James Attwood, digital editor
15 September 2018

BMW development boss Klaus Frohlich has vowed that the firm’s machines “will always have a steering wheel” – and says its autonomous machines, such as the production version of its new Vision iNext concept, will enhance the enjoyment of driving.

The Vision iNext concept previews a machine that will go on sale in 2021. Depending on local legislation and infrastructure, BMW says it will be capable of ‘level four’ autonomy in certain situations, meaning the driver will not need to pay attention to what the car is doing.

BMW Vision iNext previews 2021 autonomous SUV

Asked by Autocar how BMW would balance developing autonomous technology with its reputation for making driver’s cars, Frohlich said: “It’s not difficult. We are not a robotics or technology company; we are a car company.

“But there are some situations – for example, in traffic – where sheer driving pleasure is not possible, even in a BMW. Sometimes you can enhance driving pleasure by not driving.”

He added: “BMW cars will always have a steering wheel. The cars we have launched recently have been developed with a precise steering feel and to offer an emotional driving experience. Autonomous systems are additional to that. BMW cars are still the ultimate driving pleasure.”

BMW Z4 reborn as 335bhp Porsche 718 Boxster rival

Several of BMW’s rivals are developing ‘level five’ autonomous vehicles that won’t feature a steering wheel at all. The VW Group has established a new sub-brand called Moia, while Volvo launching a new M firm focused on mobility services. But Frohlich said building such a vehicle was of no interest to BMW.

Our Verdict

BMW i3s

Revised hatchback sets out its range-extended electric stall in a new, sportier tune

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Honda CR-V hybrid 2019 first drive review - hero front
    16 November 2018
    First Drive
    Honda’s hybrid tech makes its debut in the grown-up CR-V family SUV, and...
  • Kia Ceed 2018 long-term review - hero front
    16 November 2018
    First Drive
    The latest Ceed is the best yet. But is it now good enough to be a real...
  • Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - hero front
    16 November 2018
    Car review
    For its fourth-generation, Honda moves its long-established CR-V into full-...

“That’s the same reason we do not build vans or trucks,” he said. “We are sticking with cars.”

That said, Frohlich did note that having cars equipped with autonomous systems would be vital for the future, with the possibility that they could be required in certain situations. 

“In the future, it could be that some areas of cities are only open to cars that are in autonomous mode, and you may not be allowed to drive in them. Around 80-90% of all road accidents are caused by human error. China is using technology to cut pollution, by pushing battery-electric vehicles. It could use autonomous technology to cut accidents and traffic problems in cities.”

The production version of the Vision iNext will be launched in 2021, and Frohlich insisted that much of the planned autonomous technology would be available on it. He said the machine was likely to offer level three autonomy – requiring the human driver to monitor it in certain situations – at launch, with level four autonomy following when regulations allow.

“We assume that China will be the lead market, then the USA in certain cities, and then Europe later,” said Frohlich. “The change will take at least three decades. We started in 2005, so there’s at least two decades until this applies to all parts of the world.”

Read more

BMW Vision iNext previews 2021 autonomous SUV

BMW Z4 reborn as 335bhp Porsche 718 Boxster rival

BMW: autonomous driving is 'many, many' years away

 

Join the debate

Comments
4

16 September 2018

Level 4, level 5, what happens when the Car without a Steering Wheel brakes do everything, how do you move it if you can’t turn the front Wheels or straighten them in a given situation such as a sudden lose of power or heaven forbid an accident?, the quote that...the Driver will no longer have to pay attention to what the Car is doing, this worries me, could you would we be happy with that?

Peter Cavellini.

16 September 2018

A steering wheel even - does that mean BMW will make one kidney shaped? I hope they lose 50% of their sales but there again X^ sold to Mr A Hole by the thousands because some people just want to annoy other road users. 

what's life without imagination

16 September 2018

A steering wheel even - does that mean BMW will make one kidney shaped? I hope they lose 50% of their sales but there again X6 sold to Mr A Hole by the thousands because some people just want to annoy other road users. 

what's life without imagination

19 September 2018

create false ideology when you don't have to, we've already had FWD from this lot so stop it. BMW will do what every other car manufacturer will do given a particular set of circumstances.

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Honda CR-V hybrid 2019 first drive review - hero front
    16 November 2018
    First Drive
    Honda’s hybrid tech makes its debut in the grown-up CR-V family SUV, and...
  • Kia Ceed 2018 long-term review - hero front
    16 November 2018
    First Drive
    The latest Ceed is the best yet. But is it now good enough to be a real...
  • Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - hero front
    16 November 2018
    Car review
    For its fourth-generation, Honda moves its long-established CR-V into full-...