BMW is seeking one more automaker to join its autonomous driving partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles by the end of 2017.
"The road is open by the end of the year, and we have some good discussions with different other OEMs," Elmar Frickenstein, senior vice president of autonomous driving for BMW Group, told Automotive News. "The confidence level is high that we will do it by the end of the year."
That year-end timing is necessary to keep the project on track to produce BMW's self-driving iNEXT electric vehicle by 2021, Frickenstein said.
Having a maximum of three automakers on the project also will keep the development pace from slowing.
BMW formed the partnership in 2016 with technology companies Intel and Mobileye. Tier 1 suppliers Continental and Delphi Automotive joined this year. FCA came on board in August. The idea is to pool resources and expertise to create a scalable platform that multiple companies can use to produce self-driving vehicles.
"At a very, very early stage, we know we cannot do everything alone," Frickenstein said. "So we need a cross-industry collaboration to do autonomous driving for the BMW iNEXT. We opened the platform. So with the footprint of BMW, Fiat and Chrysler, we are open to market small cars to premium cars to different areas of the world. The footprint is broader than BMW alone."
BMW has said it will introduce the iNEXT in 2021 with at least Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities. Level 3 means conditional autonomy with the car controlling itself in most situations — "eyes off," in BMW parlance.
BMW also is exploring how to add Level 4 and 5 capability to the iNEXT. Level 4 would allow a high level of automation with drivers able to have their "mind off" the driving.
Level 5 would be full automation, or "driver off," capable of operating without a human in the car.