BMW is investing heavily in the development of autonomous technology with the launch of a new programme called Project i Next.

Insiders claim the programme has now become the core focus of BMW’s i brand and reports suggest that projects for electric drivetrain development have been scaled back as a result.

BMW board member Klaus Froehlich told Reuters that the company is now hiring experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to further develop existing autonomous driving systems and speed up their integration into production models.

Froehlich also said BMW might create its own ride-sharing business or could instead work with an established ride-sharing brand to kick-start growth. This emphasises the scale of resources BMW might be prepared to shift to this area.

Autocar recently reported how BMW head of sales and marketing Ian Robertson didn’t believe a true autonomous vehicle would be sold for “many, many years”. But this latest development suggests a bigger push by the manufacturer could hasten the rate of progress.

Earlier this year, BMW revealed its interest in autonomous technology development with the Vision Next 100 concept (pictured above), which demonstrated what BMW thought the car could be like in a century from now.

Currently, BMW’s i brand sells two electrified vehicles, the all-electric i3 and hybrid i8. Sales have been comparatively sluggish compared with those of electric rival Tesla. The i3, for example, has sold around 25, 000 examples versus the Tesla Model 3’s 400,000-plus orders.

It is not yet known if investment in Project i Next will affect plans for the BMW i division’s future line-up. At the last announcement, it was set to include a revised i3, i8 roadster and new i Next model, due in 2021.