BMW pips Audi to win the laser light race

Sneaky strategy sees BMW first into production with next-generation headlight technology, leaving rivals in the shade

Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 01:00

After months of wrangling, BMW finally outflanked Audi to get its first laser-light cars into the hands of customers and win the war to get laser headlights into a production car.

In the process it dealt an embarrassing blow to Audi, which announced just weeks ago that it would be first to market with laser lights via its limited-edition R8 LMX.

BMW triumphed in the fight between the two Bavarian prestige brands by handing over the keys to the first eight i8 owners at an exclusive event in Munich.

Although BMW had led in the development race for the lights, which provide up to 600 metres of clear white light, it appeared Audi would pip it into production after insisting the R8 LMX would hit the streets in “early summer”.

Sources said the Audi announcement burned deeply at BMW, particularly outraging some key senior executives and board members. They quickly changed strategy, outwardly sticking to BMW’s plan to introducing laser-light-equipped i8s to customers in August even as they secretly plotted to outflank their neighbour.

BMW executives reprioritised resources to sharply accelerate the final development phase of the i8’s laser-equipped headlights and push it into production in spite of initially planning to keep fine-tuning the plug-in hybrid sports car’s optional light package until August.



So successful has BMW’s programme been that it has undercut even Audi’s full laser-light-equipped Le Mans racer, which will start with the lights at this weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hour race.

What galled BMW’s senior personnel, sources say, was that the i8’s laser lights were being fitted to a new, series-production car while Audi was trying to steal the limelight with a limited-edition version to give some technical credibility to an ageing model.

“We have them. The first production car with laser lights will be a BMW, and it will be a production car, not a look-at-me limited-edition thing,” one BMW source said.

“Ours is the blueprint of the sports cars of tomorrow and theirs is the sports-car technology of a different era. It’s appropriate that this technology debuts on this car.”

The i8 uses a combination of a carbon-fibre chassis, an electric motor on the front axle, a large, centrally mounted battery pack and a turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol motor (and a small, booster electric motor) at the back and can be driven in pure electric, hybrid and full sports-car modes.

The R8 LMX uses a midmounted 5.2-litre V10 with 419kW of power to hit 100km/h in 3.4 seconds.

While Audi says the R8 LMX was developed to celebrate its R18 e-tron Quattro Le Mans racer, it was, in reality, built in a hurry to claim the laser-light production prize.

Both Audi and BMW use the same laser light motor supplier, Osram, but differ in other key suppliers. Where each of the BMW i8 laser-equipped lights use three of the Osram laser-generating “motors”, the Audi R8 LMX uses four.

In all cases the laser beams themselves are never exposed to the open air and actually point back towards the car. BMW claims the lights use 30 per cent less energy, weigh less and take up less space than even the best LED units.