BMW 2019 i8 Review: Driving yesterday’s car of tomorrow, today

The BMW i8 is a lovely vehicle to drive even though it’s lacking. It hugs the road and commands attention. It’s thrilling in a way that few cars can achieve without speed. Sure, it’s quick, but it won’t set track records or quarter mile times. It just feels great to drive.

By the numbers, there’s little reason to buy a $164,000 BMW i8 Roadster. Want speed? Buy a Porsche 911 Turbo for $161k or Corvette ZR1 for $123k or Nissan GT-R for $112k. Supercar aesthetics? Get an Acura NSX for $157k. Want all electric? Get a Tesla Model S. All are faster and cheaper than the BMW i8.

The BMW i8 is just a stepping stone in BMW’s history. An oddball. It’s a limited edition vehicle to try out new technology. From what I can tell, BMW never positioned the i8 as a top seller or market leader. It was an engineer’s playground. I love it.

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Review

BMW released the first i8 in 2014 when the automotive scene looked different. Tesla was still a fledgling startup with only the Model S in its lineup. GM was working on the second generation Chevy Volt. Hybrid powertrains seemed to be the answer, and BMW followed suit with the dual-power in the i8.

In 2015 I took the just-launched i8 from Vegas to LA in an epic, one-day adventure that took me through the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. It was a great way to appreciate the i8, and now that the model is on its way out, I wanted another go in the car.

This time, I had an i8 tester for a week. I took my kids to school in it, I got groceries with it, and in between rain storms, I lived my best life with the top down on in this $164,000 droptop.

It’s a lovely car and garners attention like nothing else in its price range. I noted this several years back when driving the i8 down the Vegas strip. The i8 is stunning and always draws a crowd. For my money, there isn’t a car that gets more attention.

The sheet metal flows as if a master glassmaker made it. It’s beautiful. The front end is aggressive and direct. The sides flow with precision to a back-end with some of the most unique tail lights available. The exhaust — remember, this is a hybrid — exits behind the rear window through a metal grate.

Don’t let its go-fast exterior oversell the capabilities though. The i8 is not as fast as it looks.

The i8 isn’t a quarter mile racer. This is a hybrid sports car with the heart of a grand tourer. This isn’t a car you want to take to a drag strip, but it could be fun at a track day. It’s a carver. Its low center of gravity lets it embrace the road. It’s silky through flowing corners.

Behind the wheel, the i8 is easy to love. The hybrid powertrain is smooth and free of drama. Hit the gas and go. Click the transmission to sport mode and its quick, but not fast. And that’s okay with me.

BMW got the inside of the i8 right. For a two-seat exotic, the i8 is comfortable and functional as long as the driver doesn’t need to transport golf clubs. The scissor doors open with little effort and offer enough room to enter and exit the car. The seats are supportive and comfortable. This 2019 version is equipped with BMW’s latest infotainment system which is among the best offered in the industry. There is very little storage available in the Roadster variant that ditches the back seats for the droptop storage. The trunk can hold four six-packs and nothing else.

When I drove the i8 in 2015, I stated that this was a car someone should buy only after they have their Porsche 911. That’s still true. While the i8 is easy to love, there are other vehicles available that offer more thrills and functionality.

The i8 is easy. Drivers shouldn’t fear to push the powertrain. It won’t bite, but it will provide plenty of excitement in the sport mode. The i8 doesn’t require the skill of other vehicles in its price range. If a Porsche 911 Turbo or Corvette ZR-1 is too much car, look at the i8. Or the Audi R8 — another sports car I found easy to boss around.

After a week of living with the i8, its performance was secondary to the experience. I’m convinced that the i8 doesn’t need raw speed to be enjoyable.

In 2014 BMW proclaimed the i8 to be the car of tomorrow, available today. And in some regards it was. The i8 was one of the first mass-production vehicles to pair an electric powertrain to a gas engine in the name of performance. Since then, nearly every exotic automaker is doing the same in various formats.

The i8 still feels like it’s a different type of vehicle than anything else available. It feels green. It feels healthy. But in the end, the i8 still relies on a dirty internal combustion engine while there are faster, better-equipped vehicles available that run on just electric motors.

Rumor is BMW is not making a direct successor to the i8, but the automaker will likely make an all-electric sports car. Eventually. And that would change everything. With just electric motors, a BMW coupe could offer serious speed while being more friendly to the environment. A pure electric i8 could be a game changer and a legitimate speed demon.

The 2019 i8 is a lovely vehicle and could bring serious enjoyment to the right person with its easy powertrain and stunning looks.


Video Review of BMW i8 (filmed in 2015)

Elon Musk: Tesla will ‘most likely’ begin computer chip upgrades this year

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company will “most likely” begin upgrading older electric vehicles with its new custom chip later this year — a lofty task that will involve retrofitting hundreds of thousands of Model S, X and 3s.

Musk tweeted Sunday night that the upgrades will begin most likely at the end of the fourth quarter.

Musk didn’t provide other details. He has previously said the upgrade would be free for owners who purchased the full self-driving feature, a software package that costs $6,000.

Tesla offers two different advanced driver assistance packages to customers: Autopilot and Full Self-Driving or FSD. Autopilot is ADAS that offers a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane steering and is now a standard feature on new cars. FSD includes Summon as well as Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes.

While Tesla charges for the FSD software package, the vehicles are not fully autonomous. Musk has promised that the advanced driver assistance capabilities on Tesla vehicles will continue to improve until eventually reaching that full automation high-water mark.

The custom chip unveiled in April has been couched as a necessary hardware upgrade to reach that goal. Since March, new Model X and S vehicles have come equipped with the chip. The Model 3 followed a month later.

The custom chip was a milestone for the company. However, it still faces the considerable challenge of upgrading thousands of so-called “Hardware 2” vehicles, not to mention the continuous development of the software.

Tesla started producing electric vehicles with a more robust suite of sensors, radar, and cameras — called Hardware 2— in October 2016 under the premise and the promise that it had the hardware needed to eventually drive autonomously without human intervention. At that time, the company also began selling the upgraded full self-driving package that Musk said would eventually reach that ambitious target.

Tesla sets new delivery record of 95,200 electric vehicles

Tesla delivered 95,200 of its electric vehicles in the second quarter, a dramatic reversal from a disappointing first period that set a new record and beat analysts’ expectations.

Analysts expected Tesla to deliver 91,000 vehicles during the second quarter, according to estimates compiled by FactSet.

The record-breaking figures stand in stark contrast to the company’s first quarter delivery numbers when it reported deliveries of delivered 63,000 vehicles, nearly a one-third drop from the previous period. The low numbers signaled what was to come: wider-than-expected loss of $702 million driven by disappointing delivery numbers, costs and pricing adjustments to its vehicles.

The second quarter, at least in terms of deliveries, is giving a rosier view of the company and possibly its earnings, which have yet to be reported.

Tesla also reported that it produced 87,048 vehicles in the second quarter compared to 77,100 in the previous period. The second-quarter production figure also beats the company’s fourth quarter stats of 86,555 vehicles.

tesla q2 deliveries

Tesla reported that it made “significant progress” streamlining its global logistics and delivery operations at higher volumes — a major pinch point for the company. Tesla said this has improved cost efficiencies and improvements to our working capital position.

The company also signaled that this record would not be a blip. Orders in the second quarter exceeded deliveries, which means Tesla is entering the third quarter with a backlog.

Customer vehicles in transit at the end of the quarter were over 7,400, according to Tesla. The company says it doesn’t plan to disclose the customer vehicles in transit metric going forward.

Tesla’s in-dash sketchpad gets a boost in next update, music tools coming later

Tesla owners will be better able to express themselves artistically using their in-vehicle infotainment touchscreen with the next update of their vehicle’s in-car software. Tesla revealed via Twitter today that the forthcoming software update will bring improved Sketchpad features, providing essential upgrades to an Easter Egg it first debuted over two years ago that lets Tesla owners doodle in their cars.

In response to a request from a fan asking for Tesla’s in-car drawing software (this is a weird phrase to be writing) to add a color picker, saturation controls and an undo history, Tesla noted that new features are coming in the next big update planned for Tesla vehicle software. It sounds like all of those could be on the menu, based on this tweet, and that might not be the end of the improvements in store.

In May, Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to another Twitter fan who was requesting animation support. Musk replied just a simple ‘Ok’ but given his general meme love, I would not at all be surprised if the next version of Sketchpad supports GIF output.

Musk also noted at around the same time that “Every Tesla should have good art & music creation software” which does not actually seem like an essential accoutrement for a vehicle at all, but then again Musk is a billionaire and I am not.

The CEO also followed up with some more details on what he has in mind for music curation: A ‘little music tool’ to be released later, and even in-car karaoke.

Tesla vehicle fire in Shanghai caused by single battery module

The Tesla Model S vehicle fire that occurred in Shanghai this past April, prompting international media attention, was caused by a single battery module and is not a system defect, the company said Friday.

Tesla provided the update on the cause of the fire in a post Friday on its Weibo social media account. A team of investigators analyzed the battery, vehicle history, software and manufacturing data. The fire was caused by a single battery module at the front of the vehicle, Tesla said.

The company has issued a software update that will change battery charge and thermal management settings in Model S sedans and Model X SUVs.

This software update was first announced in May following the company’s investigation into another Model S fire in Hong Kong. In that incident, a Tesla Model S caught fire March 14 while parked near a Hong Kong shopping mall. The vehicle was sitting for about a half an hour before it burst into flames. Three explosions were seen on CCTV footage.

Tesla said, at the time, that the software update was being done out of “an abundance of caution.” The update is supposed to “protect the battery and improve its longevity.” The over-the-air software update will not be made to Model 3 vehicles.

The company added that while the probability of a Tesla electric vehicle fire is lower than a gasoline-powered vehicle, it takes any incident seriously.

Two other companies, Chinese automotive startup Nio and Audi, have issued recalls to due to risk of battery fire. In Audi’s case, there hasn’t been any reported fires. But the company went ahead and issued a voluntary recall in the U.S. for the E-Tron SUV after it found that moisture can seep into the battery cell through a wiring harness. There have been five cases worldwide where this has caused a battery fault warning.

Nio is grappling with a design issue in an older battery pack module. The company, which began deliveries of its ES8 SUV in June 2018, is recalling nearly 5,000 of the vehicles after a series of battery fires in China and a subsequent investigation revealed a vulnerability that created a safety risk.

A Nio-led team of experts that included the supplier of the battery pack module, investigated a reported fire involving an ES8 in Shanghai. The team concluded there was a vulnerability in the design of the battery pack that could cause a short circuit. In this case, battery packs in the vehicles involved were equipped with a module specification NEV-P50.

Vehicles with 70kWh battery packs produced after October 20, 2018 are equipped with the NEV-P102 modules and have different internal structural designs. These packs don’t have the same risk, Nio said.

Nio recalls nearly 5,000 ES8 electric SUVs over fire risk

Chinese automotive startup Nio is recalling nearly 5,000 of its ES8 high-performance electric SUVs after a series of battery fires in China and a subsequent investigation revealed a vulnerability that created a safety risk.

The recall affects a quarter of the ES8 vehicles it has sold since they went on sale in June 2018.

A Nio-led team of experts that included the supplier of the battery pack module, investigated a reported fire involving an ES8 in Shanghai. The team concluded there was a vulnerability in the design of the battery pack that could cause a short circuit.

The battery packs in the vehicles involved were equipped with a module specification NEV-P50. These packs were pressing up against voltage sampling cable harness due to improper positioning, Nio said. The insulation on the cable may wear out due to this repeated contact and cause a short circuit, Nio determined.

Nio said other ES8 vehicles that have experienced issues had the same battery pack.

The recall affects 4,803 models produced from April 02, 2018 to October 19, 2018 that are equipped with NEV-P50 batteries. The company will be replace the battery packs, a process that could take up to two months.

All NEV-P50 batteries in the battery swap network will also be replaced to ensure, Nio said. 

Vehicles with 70kWh battery packs produced after October 20, 2018 are equipped with the NEV-P102 modules and have different internal structural designs. These packs don’t have the same risk, Nio said.

The recall comes at an inauspicious time for Nio. Nio began deliveries of the ES8 in China in June 2018. And while deliveries initially surpassed expectations, they have since slowed in 2019. The company reported loss of $390.9 million in the first quarter.

Nio said it would shift its vehicle production plans, reduce in R&D spending and cut to its workforce by 4.5% in response to the weak quarter.

Other automakers with electric vehicles have issued recalls over fire risk. Earlier this month, Audi issued a voluntary recall in the U.S. for the E-Tron SUV due to the risk of battery fire. No fires had been reported in the 1,644 E-Trons that Audi has sold. The company issued the recall after it found that moisture can seep into the battery cell through a wiring harness. There have been five cases worldwide where this has caused a battery fault warning.

In May, Tesla started pushing out a software update that will change battery charge and thermal management settings in Model S sedans and Model X SUVs following a fire in a parked vehicle in Hong Kong. The software update, which Tesla said at the time was being done out of “an abundance of caution,” is supposed to “protect the battery and improve its longevity.” The over-the-air software update will not be made to Model 3 vehicles.

Is your product’s AI annoying people?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is allowing us all to consider surprising new ways to simplify the lives of our customers. As a product developer, your central focus is always on the customer. But new problems can arise when the specific solution under development helps one customer while alienating others.

We tend to think of AI as an incredible dream assistant to our lives and business operations, when that’s not always the case. Designers of new AI services should consider in what ways and for whom might these services be annoying, burdensome or problematic, and whether it involves the direct customer or others who are intertwined with the customer. When we apply AI services to make tasks easier for our customers which end up making things more difficult for others, that outcome can ultimately cause real harm to our brand perception.

Let’s consider one personal example taken from my own use of Amy.ai, a service (from x.ai) that provides AI assistants named Amy and Andrew Ingram. Amy and Andrew are AI assistants that help schedule meetings for up to four people. This service solves the very relatable problem of scheduling meetings over email, at least for the person who is trying to do the scheduling.

After all, who doesn’t want a personal assistant to whom you can simply say, “Amy, please find the time next week to meet with Tom, Mary, Anushya and Shiveesh.” In this way, you don’t have to arrange a meeting room, send the email, and go back and forth managing everyone’s replies. My own experience showed that while it was easier for me to use Amy to find a good time to meet with my four colleagues, it soon became a headache for those other four people. They resented me for it after being bombarded by countless emails trying to find some mutually agreeable time and place for everyone involved.

Automotive designers are another group that’s incorporating all kinds of new AI systems to enhance the driving experience. For instance, Tesla recently updated its autopilot software to allow a car to change lanes automatically when it sees fit, presumably when the system interprets that the next lane’s traffic is going faster.

In concept, this idea seems advantageous to the driver who can make a safe entrance into faster traffic, while relieving any cognitive burden of having to change lanes manually. Furthermore, by allowing the Tesla system to change lanes, it takes away the desire to play Speed Racer or edge toward competitiveness that one may feel on the highway.

However, for the drivers in other lanes who are forced to react to the Tesla autopilot, they may be annoyed if the Tesla jerks, slows down, or behaves outside the normal realm of what people expect on the freeway. Moreover, if they are driving very fast and the autopilot did not recognize they were operating at a high rate of speed when the car decided to make the lane change, then that other driver can get annoyed. We can all relate to driving 75 mph in the fast lane, only to have someone suddenly pull in front of us at 70 as if they were clueless that the lane was moving at 75.

For two-lane traffic highways that are not busy, the Tesla software might work reasonably well.   However, in my experience of driving around the congested freeways of the Bay Area, the system performed horribly whenever I changed crowded lanes, and I knew that it was angering other drivers most of the time. Even without knowing those irate drivers personally, I care enough about driving etiquette to politely change lanes without getting the finger from them for doing so.

Post Intelligence robot

Another example from the Internet world involves Google Duplex, a clever feature for Android phone users that allows AI to make restaurant reservations. From the consumer point of view, having an automated system to make a dinner reservation on one’s behalf sounds excellent. It is advantageous to the person making the reservation because, theoretically, it will save the burden of calling when the restaurant is open and the hassle of dealing with busy signals and callbacks.

However, this tool is also potentially problematic for the restaurant worker who answers the phone. Even though the system may introduce itself as artificial, the burden shifts to the restaurant employee to adapt and master a new and more limited interaction to achieve the same goal – making a simple reservation.

On the one hand, Duplex is bringing customers to the restaurant, but on the other hand, the system is narrowing the scope of interaction between the restaurant and its customer. The restaurant may have other tables on different days, or it may be able to squeeze you in if you leave early, but the system might not handle exceptions like this. Even the idea of an AI bot bothering the host who answers the phone doesn’t seem quite right.

As you think about making the lives of your customers easier, consider how the assistance you are dreaming about might be more of a nightmare for everyone else associated with your primary customer. If there is a question regarding the negative experience of anyone related to your AI product, explore that experience further to determine if there is another better way to still delight them without angering their neighbors.

From a user experience perspective, developing a customer journey map can be a helpful way to explore the actions, thoughts, and emotional experiences of your primary customer or “buyer persona.” Identify the touchpoints in which your system interacts with innocent bystanders who are not your direct customers. For those people unaware of your product, explore their interaction with your buyer persona, specifically their emotional experience.

An aspirational goal should be to delight this adjacent group of people enough that they would move towards being prospects and, eventually, becoming your customers as well. Also, you can use participant ethnography to analyze the innocent bystander in relation to your product. This is a research method which combines the observations of people as they interact with processes and the product.

A guiding design inspiration for this research could be, “How can our AI system behave in such a way that everyone who might come into contact with our product is enchanted and wants to know more?”

That’s just human intelligence, and it’s not artificial.

Why Tesla and Uber won’t escape 25% tariffs — for now

Tesla and Uber both had requests for tariff relief rejected by U.S. trade officials, a decision that will force the companies to pay a 25% tariff or seek new suppliers.

Reuters was the first to report the decision by the office of the U.S. Trade Representatives. TechCrunch previously reported on the Trump administration’s refusal to exempt the “brain” of Tesla’s Autopilot technology from punitive import tariffs.

Last year, the Trump administration imposed 25% tariffs on a range of imports, including electronics, to try to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China. Tesla and Uber are among the U.S. companies that have requested relief on those tariffs.

Tesla filed at the end of December a request for an exemption on the Model 3’s car computer, including its media control unit, connectivity board and advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) hardware. Uber was seeking an exemption on its Chinese-made electric bikes.

In a May 29 letter, the USTR denied Tesla’s requests, stating that the Model 3 car computer and center screen are products that are “strategically important” or “related to Made in China 2025 or other Chinese industrial programs.”

Made in China 2025 is China’s strategic plan to move away from manufacturing to produce higher-value goods, particularly in the areas of AI, electric vehicles and robotics. The White House has remarked that Made in China is a direct threat to U.S. domestic technology and automotive companies.

Tesla declined to comment on the decision.

Earlier this year, Tesla unveiled new custom chip designed to enable what it describes as full self-driving (FSD) operation for all of its new vehicles. Today, Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. 

However, the hardware is standard in all new Model 3, S and X vehicles and customers can pay an additional $6,000 for the FSD software package. The self-driving hardware lives within the Autopilot engine control unit, or ECU, a module that Tesla describes as the “brain of the vehicle.” This module is assembled in Shanghai, China, by a company called Quanta Computer.

Tesla warned that higher tariffs on the “brain of the vehicle” could cause economic harm to the company.

The other denial was actually a request by a Tesla supplier, SAS Automotive USA, that makes the center screen for the Model 3. The center screen is part of the overall media center unit and includes a 17-inch touchscreen that displays navigation, media, audio, climate control, energy display and all in-cabin controls. The screen is essentially a hub that allows the driver or passenger to control nearly all the functions of the Model 3.

Tesla’s in-car touchscreens are getting YouTube support

Tesla has consistently been adding software to its in-car touchscreen infotainment displays – including sometimes things that probably leave a lot of people scratching their heads. During a special Q&A today at annual gaming event E3 in LA, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Tesla’s in-car display will support YouTube someday soon.

This isn’t the first time that the Tesla CEO has suggested YouTube might one day have a home in the company’s cars: In response to a fan’s question on Twitter last August he noted that ‘version 10’ of the company’s in-car software would provide support for third-party video streaming. The company debuted its ‘Software Version 9.0’ last year.

Musk specifically said YouTube would be coming to cars during the E3 event today, at which he revealed that Bethesda’s Fallout 3 would be coming to the infotainment displays, and unveiled a demo video of Android game Beach Buggy Racer running on a display in a Tesla Model 3.

On a recent podcast, the Tesla CEO also said that the company would consider opening the platform more broadly to third-party developers for both apps and games. The company has done a lot on its own to add software ‘Easter Eggs’ to the dash display, but turning it into a true platform is a much more ambitious vision.

On its face, adding attention-heavy apps like streaming video services to a car definitely seems counterintuitive, but to be fair to Tesla, a large number of drivers today use their phones for in-car navigation and those can also all technically display YouTube at any time. It does seem like a case of Musk’s mind racing ahead to a day when his cars are fully autonomous, something he recently reiterated he expects to happen within the next couple of years.

Tesla says solar roof is on its third iteration, currently installing in 8 states

Tesla is currently installing its solar roof product in eight states, according to Elon Musk speaking at the Tesla Annual Shareholders Meeting on Tuesday. The solar roof tile project has had a relatively long genesis, since being first unveiled three years ago in 2016.

In 2017, the company claimed its first ever installations of the Tesla solar roof, after opening up orders for the product in the second quarter of that year. Musk noted during the company’s Q2 2017 earnings call that both himself and Tesla CTO JB Straubel had the tiles installed and operating on their homes

The company also announced last year that it had entered into a partnership with Home Depot to sell its solar panels along with its PowerWall home battery, but that was about its traditional panels specifically, not the new tile product. The tiles are designed to look like high quality home tiles people use currently, with integrated solar panels that are not easily identified from ground level, in order to provide a more aesthetically pleasing solution.

In addition to having installations run in eight states, Musk also said that the solar roof product is currently on version three, and that this version is very exciting to him because it offers a chance of being at cost parity with an equivalent entry-level cheap traditional tile, when you include the cost of utilities you’d be saving by generating your own power instead.

Timelines for wider roll-out of the solar roof products at the costs he anticipates, his own words probably say it best: “I’m sometimes a little optimistic about timeframes – it’s time you knew” he joked at the meeting.