BMW’s CEO reveals plans for the i NEXT, a self-driving car set for a 2021 debut

Before you get too excited, the above image is the Vision NEXT 100, the concept car BMW showed off back in March to note that, as it celebrated its 100th anniversary, the company was spending more time looking forward than back.

The automaker’s CEO Harald Krueger struck a similarly futuristic tone during its annual shareholder meeting in Munich this week, though the chief executive was far more pragmatic in his prognostications, discussing the sorts of innovation his company anticipated bring to market within the next decade. Krueger described BMW’s relatively near-term strategy as containing “both evolutionary and disruptive elements.”

After looking slightly back to the BMW i3 of 2013, Krueger, projected forward to the 2018 BMW i8 Roadster, and even more compellingly, a new, feature-packed vehicle for 2021. The exec didn’t let out a ton of details about the forthcoming car – just enough to make the auto-watching world sit up and pay attention.

“[The i8] will be followed in 2021 by the BMW i NEXT,” Kreuger told shareholders, “our new innovation driver, with autonomous driving, digital connectivity, intelligent lightweight design, a totally new interior and ultimately bringing the next generation of electro-mobility to the road.”

And while he didn’t offer much else about the car itself, Kreuger had plenty more to say about self-driving vehicles, a topic spurring much debate with regard to both safety and legality. While BMW already has the technology, he explained, there are still a lot of questions to be answered and wrinkles to iron out.

“In 2011, a BMW drove on the A9 autobahn from Munich towards Nuremberg – without any driver intervention,” he told the audience. “It will be a while before these cars reach series maturity – also because the proper legal framework for customers and manufacturers has not yet been decided.”