The 2014 World Car Awards were presented at the New York Auto Show this morning, and BMW’s all-electric i3 came away as the star, winning World Green Car and World Car Design of the Year.
The latter is somewhat surprising (or maybe not), given the i3’s totally unconventional looks: It’s nothing like the cars that made BMW one of the world’s premiere automakers.
But even before the award was announced, BMW defended the bold look.
“The design is, can be polarising to people,” head of EV Operations and Strategy for BMW North America Jacob Harb said in an interview at the auto show. But there are two reasons it looks the way it does: It’s made for electric driving in a city, and it’s meant to bring new customers into the brand.
“The concept was designed in the beginning to be a mega-city vehicle,” Ludwig Willisch, President and CEO of BMW North America, told Business Insider. It seats four people but is small enough to zip through tight traffic and roads, which explains its proportions.
BMW designers could surely have made a car that fit that mandate without looking so unusual, or converted an existing model to run on electricity, but that wasn’t the mission. The i3 is made to appeal to a new set of customers, Willisch said.
“What we know from research is that people that drive a car like that want to make a statement, they want to show that they choose a different way of mobility. It’s not the ordinary steel car with an exhaust pipe.”
Harb presented the “polarising” design as a good thing. “The whole point of a new model is conquest and to bring new people into the brand,” he said. “With i, we know we’re doing that.”
Here’s how the World Car Awards explained the decision to give the design trophy to BMW:
Unlike other BMW cars, the i3 has a boxy shape, which suggests roominess and efficiency. But it still retains BMW’s typical dynamism thanks to the larger diameter wheels and the very short overhangs both on front and rear. Besides that, the i3 expresses the sub-brand’s own character with using unique design features, including the black bonnet and the side window graphics that goes through the rear pillar. The interior is more surprising and attractive. It marks radical leap of car interior design, and it spreads as calm yet rich feeling as a modern living room.
World Car Awards winners are selected by a jury of 69 automotive journalists, based on recommendations from panels of experts in each category. The Audi A3 was named World Car of the Year.
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