BMW may pull plug on i brand
HIGH DEVELOPMENT COST AND LACKLUSTRE SALES QUESTIONED, WRITES MIKE STEVENS
BMW’s eight top managers will take the unusual step of skipping next month’s Paris Motor Show to discuss the future of its electric vehicles programme, a report suggests.
Like most carmakers, BMW’s top executives will usually make themselves available to media and partners in the opening days of the world’s biggest motor shows. But, according to international industry journal Automotive News, just one board member, Ian Robertson — global sales and marketing manager — will be on deck.
It is believed that though many brands are heavily committed to an electrified future, the high development cost and lacklustre sales performance of BMW’s i3 electric hatch has caused some to question continued investment.
When the i3 was revealed in early 2013, Robertson claimed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that it would be “profitable from day one”. With about 25,000 sales in 2015, the i3 claimed the title of third best-selling electric vehicle in the segment’s history, behind the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S.
BMW’s targets are understood to have been much higher, but the i programme has lost momentum. Reports of additional i models have been circulating since the sub-brand was first announced, but evidence of any new variants — despite talk of new sedan and SUV plans — is yet to surface.
Although a new i variant would be built on the same “Life-Drive” platform that forms the basis of the i3 and i8 plug-in hybrid coupe, Automotive News reports that senior executives are unwilling to spend further on the programme. Where that leaves BMW’s electric-vehicle strategy — beyond the growing iPerformance plug-in hybrid range — is unclear, although next month’s talks will focus on reaching agreement on that next step.
It is believed some senior executives are intent on introducing a Mini-badged electric vehicle by 2019 but, as the i3 has shown, finding profit with a small EV will prove challenging while the technology is still in this early, prohibitively expensive phase.
No surprise, then, that others are pushing for a high-end large EV to capture the sort of buyers rushing to the Tesla Model S.
“How does the company expand into the loss-making segment of electric cars and retain its industry-leading profitability? That’s essentially the question facing management now,” an unnamed source is quoted by Automotive News.
Tesla began at the opposite end of the scale to BMW, starting with the expensive Roadster, Model S sedan and Model X SUV models before announcing full details on its more affordable Model 3 mid-sizer.
The American start-up has also taken steps to balance the cost of batteries with its massive Gigafactory in Nevada.