BMW has ‘M’ and ‘i’ brands and – stupidly – says never the twain shall meet

bmw i8 on track

The BMW i8 may one day compete with a sister BMW supercar.

BMW rocked both the sports car and the plug-in hybrid worlds last week with its unveiling of the i8. Immediately many – including yours truly – speculated about a future i8 M performance model.

As it stands, the i8 is capable of 0-62 mph in 4.4 seconds. Clearly, the i8 is fast but not mind-bogglingly so. Impressively, despite the i8’s quick acceleration, the i8 design team didn’t receive any help whatsoever from BMW’s M performance arm.

This, it might surprise you to learn, will remain the way of the BMW branding world for the foreseeable future, as BMW intentionally aims to keep i and M as distinctly separate BMW sub-brands.

“It was a deliberate decision to have two strong brand pillars to support the identity of BMW from two angles,” said BMW M head of product management Carsten Pries.

In an interview with Car Advice at the Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW Group head of technology communications Cypselus von Frakenberg said, “These (M) are the high performance cars with combustion engines, and on the other side you have the ‘i’ cars with electric drive. They won’t come together.”

To me, this decision doesn’t make sense. It would be fine if BMW had stopped its i investment with the compact i3. When it added the performance i8, however, it erased all reasons for M separation. Frankly, the exclusion of M engineers from the i8 design floor could prove damaging to both brands.

By BMW’s admission, the i8 is presently a competitor with the Porsche 911 Carrera S – in terms of price but not performance.

This makes the i8 a niche car – and an expensive one at that. But this doesn’t mean the world doesn’t want an even faster and more expensive i8 that could go toe-to-toe with the Carrera S in acceleration, too. Ferrari already sold all 499 units of its $1.6M+ LaFerrari plug-in hybrid supercars and nearly all of the million-dollar McLaren P1s are spoken for, too. It stands to reason, then, an i8 M would sell just as well.

Keeping the i and M worlds separate is foolhardy at best. Pries admits that i and M could very well one day compete in terms of performance but doesn’t know when that day might come. If left unchecked, I wager that day could be just around the corner.

I fear, however, BMW brass will artificially hold the i team back, as to not let its cars cannibalize sales of the M models. For as much as I love internal combustion, its days as the performance leader are numbered. BMW ought to wise up and let the electrons take the reigns.

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