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How Close Is BMW to Creating Autonomous Vehicles?

There’s been a ton of buzz surrounding self-driving cars recently, both about BMW and the broader auto industry. It seems like we’re perpetually on the cusp of a world in which no one has to physically drive their own cars anymore. When will autonomous vehicles — and, more specifically, self-driving BMWs — really be ready?

The Five Levels of Autonomous Driving

Experts define five levels of autonomous driving, with each one being more advanced than the one before it. Level one includes driver assist technologies that help the driver but don’t take control over the car. In level five, the vehicle operates itself completely, and the people in the car are merely passengers.

Level one technologies are commonplace in today’s world, and all new BMW models have them. BMW Personal CoPilot driver assistance systems are examples of level one tech. These systems include Active Cruise Control with the Stop&Go function, which adjusts your distance to the car in front of you. The Collision and Pedestrian Warning system with City Brake Activation uses automatic braking to prevent collisions.

Some Beamers also have level two technologies. In this level, the car can take control, but the driver is still responsible for vehicle operation. These systems include BMW’s Steering and Lane Control Assistant, which includes Traffic Jam Assistant. Designed to make everyday driving easier, these systems can take over steering, in addition to automatically braking and accelerating. Another example is the remote-controlled parking function.

In keeping with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s autonomous vehicle testing guidelines, BMW is currently testing cars with level three and level four autonomy. It aims to introduce level three cars to the consumer marker by 2021. These vehicles would be able to drive autonomously for longer periods, but drivers would still need to be ready to take control quickly and would have to drive under some conditions.

BMW is also testing level four cars and has a fleet of around 40 of them in Munich and California. In level four, the vehicle drives autonomously the majority of the time, although the driver must still be able to take over.

BMW’s Current Efforts

With a research and development team of about 1,000 people, BMW is working continuously on its autonomous vehicle technologies. The company does much of its research and development work out of its Silicon Valley technology office. The company is also testing the vehicles in California and Munich.

The test vehicles are loaded with cameras, lidar systems and other sensors that allow them to capture data about their environment. This includes information about the motion of other vehicles, the presence of pedestrians and other hazards. Hardware located in the trunk of the cars process all this information and puts it into action.

BMW is working with several partners on its autonomous vehicle tech, including Intel Corp., which owns sensor maker Mobileye. BMW also works with German automotive parts maker Continental AG and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. BMW has said it’s open to working with other collaborators and is pursuing a nonexclusive platform for the development of self-driving technology.

The iNext Concept

The Vision iNext concept provides a glimpse into what the future of BMW vehicles may look like. The idea behind the iNext concept is to turn the vehicle into a “living space on wheels.” It’s designed to be a place where you can relax as if you were at home, while still having the option of the driving experience BMW is known for.

The driver has two options for what experience they want to have in this iNext concept vehicle. In Boost mode, the driver is in full control, and the steering wheel is easily accessible. In Ease mode, the car operates autonomously. The steering wheel retracts slightly, freeing up some space. The vehicle includes two interactive digital screens that display information, such as your speed and your proximity to other cars.

The company premiered the concept at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It plans to have a production version in its showrooms by 2021 in the form of a level-three, all-electric SUV from its “i” brand.

Today’s new BMWs already have some autonomous functionalities, but we’re still a relatively long way off from fully autonomous, level five vehicles. We need more technological advancements as well as substantial safety testing, and federal rules will need to evolve further before we can fully adopt self-driving vehicles. BMW, however, expects Beamers with level-three capabilities to hit showrooms by 2021.

BMW, along with the rest of the auto industry, is moving steadily toward an autonomous future.

Slump in Sales Could Drive Minis to BMW Dealerships

Miniature sales numbers could soon force Minis, which currently have their own dealerships, to share space with BMWs.

The Mini marque, which is owned by BMW, has had stand-alone Mini stores since 2008 as part of its efforts to maintain a unique, independent image. Today, there are 127 Mini stores. Mini dealerships, though, appear to be struggling to sustain this independent dealership model due to lower-than-expected sales numbers.

Mini projected it would have 100,000 in annual sales by 2017, but it hasn’t yet topped 66,500, a number it reached in 2013. The brand’s sales decreased by 10 percent in 2017, and through the first 10 months of 2018, Mini sold only 37,359 cars.

This has led some Mini dealers to request an integration with nearby BMW dealerships to reduce overhead costs and increase efficiency. Sharing costs associated with real estate and operations could help the brand stay afloat.

“We want to focus on dealer profitability so that they are properly represented in the marketplace,” Thomas Felbermair, vice president of Mini Region Americas, told Automotive News.

BMW and Mini, however, want to ensure brand differentiation should the two merge dealerships. To accomplish this, they’re considering creating separate Mini showrooms at BMW dealership locations. Dedicated Mini salespeople and service workers would staff these showrooms. Mini is also working with some dealers to reduce their requirements for showroom space to facilitate the move.

Mini has also indicated that it’s exploring other ways to support dealerships that would remain independent.

Challenges Facing Mini

The sales slump is the primary challenge facing Mini, but another issue is the lack of new product. Mini introduced the redesigned Countryman in spring 2017 and a plug-in hybrid variant later that year. A full-electric model is expected to arrive next year, but some Mini dealers have expressed worries that there isn’t enough new product on the horizon to keep customers interested.

“We’re in a development phase,” Felbermair said. “There’s a number of longer range projects that you will see come to fruition.”

Some dealers have also expressed concerns about a lack of consumer awareness caused by inadequate marketing funds.

Perhaps the biggest threat, though, is the fact that the company hasn’t been able to convince Americans to buy premium small cars. The U.S. market for SUVs and light trucks is strong, but that of premium compact cars continues to struggle. Mini also hasn’t been able to attract the young drivers it originally that would be its core audience.

“As a dealer and a manufacturer you have a vision of where the brand is going, and you have to prepare for it,” Jason Willis, a member of the Mini National Dealer Council, told Automotive News. “In this case, the vision now isn’t what it was when some of these stores were built.”

However, BMW and Mini still have hope that things will turn around. The marque is going through a bit of a rough patch that’s left it unable to maintain its independent dealership model. Although the company hasn’t made a final decision yet, reducing costs by moving in with BMW dealers may help Mini hold on until conditions improve.

Check Out the BMW M5 Competition Package

There’s been a lot of news about the M5 Competition, but in case you missed it, we have you covered.

You can’t look at a new BMW without at least glancing over all the fantastic performance packages and accessories you can add on to your new car. The newest and perhaps the most exciting of these packages is the Competition Package for the new M5 sedan. Let’s take a look at the already-beefy M5 and what this package has to offer.

The BMW M5

This luxury sedan is already a beast even by BMW’s standards. The 4.4L twin-turbo V8 engine cranks out a whopping 600 horsepower and 553 lb.-ft. of torque. While the newest models may have lost some fans because of the automatic transmission with no manual option, there are still plenty of drivers waiting for the newest incarnation of this powerful little sedan to roll off the assembly line.

Right out of the factory, this car can make it from zero to 60 in 2.8 seconds and can pull a quarter-mile in 10.9 seconds at 129 miles per hour. It comes with all-wheel-drive but can easily be switched into rear-wheel-drive mode with the push of a button, though rear-wheel-drive does knock a couple of seconds off its 0-60 and quarter-mile times.

With adjustable suspension modes, this sedan is just as much at home on the track as it is during your morning commute.

The Competition Package

Adding a good engine treatment can be a great way to squeeze a few extra horses out of nearly any engine, even one as powerful as the V8 under the hood of the M5. If 600 horsepower just isn’t enough for you, though, waiting for the new Competition Package was the best thing you could have done.

This package adds 25 more horsepower and 37 extra lb.-ft. of torque to the already-powerful engine. It also includes a firmer suspension — which can still be adjusted to fit your driving needs — and y-spoke alloy wheels to stand up to any punishment on or off the track.

This package also includes a Sports Exhaust. While it isn’t going to be the full titanium exhaust used on older models, it will reportedly be louder and offer more cracks that the titanium pipes, so we’ll have to see how the Competition Package M5 sounds out on the track.

Of course, no BMW package is complete without its branding — and you’ll see that in the door sills, rear badging, logos and engine cover.

One thing this package doesn’t include is BMW’s carbon ceramic brakes, which came as a surprise to many fans. While you can still add these to your M5 for an additional cost, leaving them off does take roughly 50 pounds off the car’s overall weight. It’s entirely up to you.

You might find it’s totally worth the cost for a few extra ponies under the hood and some snazzy additions to an already-fantastic little sedan.