Electric vehicles are nothing new; they have existed since the 1800s. However, they are finally becoming a popular mode of transport, as CHARLEEN CLARKE discovers in Munich.
Alexander Kotouc, head of product management BMW i at the BMW Group, is one very happy man. The success of BMW i is the reason why. “We outsold the BMW M division last year, which has been around for 40 years. That’s not bad for a brand that’s only just over four years old!” he reports, with a massive grin. (BMW M vehicles are the sportiest cars produced by the company; they are high-end, high-performance cars.)
“We sold over 100 000 electrified vehicles last year, versus 80 000 M cars. When it comes to the established manufacturers, we’re the market leader, with ten percent of the entire electrified market. Chinese companies are making big strides in this market, too. The Chinese government is pushing hard to make inroads into this market.
“Not all of the Chinese companies will survive, but, even if only ten percent of them do, they will be a force with which to be reckoned – because there are so many of them. This is competition that we take very seriously,” Kotouc explains.
BMW currently has two fully electrified cars – the i3 and the i8, which is a petrol-electric hybrid supercar. “They’re doing really well for us. Every ninth electrified vehicle sold in the world is an i3, which is a good figure. In comparison, every 50th non-electrified car sold worldwide is a BMW,” says Kotouc.
Many customers are new to the BMW brand. “We have a conversion rate of 86 percent for the i8. They are mostly customers we’ve never seen before. The i8 is normally chosen in addition to other cars; it’s one of the cars within their personal fleet,” he tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT.
Customers buy the car for various reasons – and some are quite amusing. “I know many of our customers personally and they often tell me why they have chosen an i8. Recently, we sold an i8 to a dentist here in Munich.
“He normally drives a Lamborghini, but he told me that, when in his Lamborghini, no one looks at him. Those who do think he’s a show-off. The opposite is true with the i8; people stare and the feedback is always positive – because it’s a responsible choice of vehicle.
“We have another customer from Belgium. He normally drives a Porsche, but he was becoming quite unpopular thanks to the noise he made when he travelled to the bakery early on a Sunday morning. Now, he says he can sneak out of the house and go to the bakery and he doesn’t bother anyone,” Kotouc reports with a big grin.
Going forward, Kotouc is putting his money on having more delighted i customers. “More than 120 BMW i3s and eight to ten BMW i8s are currently leaving the assembly line at BMW’s Leipzig plant every day. In 2018, we aim to sell at least 140 000 electrified vehicles. We aim to have a total of half a million electrified vehicles on the roads by the end of 2019. In the future, every fourth car we sell will have to be electric if we are to comply with CO2 legislation.
“Accordingly, by 2025 the BMW i range will encompass 25 electrified models, 12 of which will be fully electric, and these vehicles will account for 15 to 25 percent of our global sales,” he reveals. This means, with a volume of 2,5-million vehicles, we are talking about sales of 375 000 to 625 000 electrified vehicles – spread across several segments.
As part of this strategy, BMW will adopt a new vehicle platform. “We are already producing electrified models at ten international locations, and this number could grow in the future. From 2020 onwards, we will have a platform on which we will be able to build full-electric, hybrid and combustion-engine cars. This will give us enormous flexibility. Our competitors are focusing on solitary electric platforms, which gives them no flexibility,” he explains.
BMW is also working on the development of its fifth-generation electric drives, which will fit into current (non-electrified) models. This means that the company will be able to fully or partially electrify all its products.
The i vehicles will be complemented by a number of other vehicles from the BMW Group. The company will start building the battery-electric MINI in late 2019. This will be followed by the battery-electric BMW X3 in 2020.
BMW’s Dingolfing plant will build its new technology flagship, the pure-electric BMW iNEXT, from 2021. It will feature the fifth-generation electric drive.
The company will work on removing range anxiety and improving convenience. “In the future we will be able to offer battery packs that will accommodate a range of
700 km; we’re even discussing 750 km, so, in the next two to three years we will no longer have range anxiety.
“We will also reduce charging times. Our biggest battery can now be fully charged in 36 minutes using a DC charger, and we would like to make the process even faster,” Kotouc says.
In a related vein, he says the recharging stations will present some interesting opportunities. “Experience has clearly shown that, alongside range and price, charging infrastructure is a very important requirement in making electromobility attractive. That can clearly be seen in Norway, where the BMW i3 is at the top of the sales charts. The Netherlands and California are just two further examples.
“We’re looking at setting up a supercharger network throughout Europe. For the conceivable future, people will spend time recharging their electric vehicles. So, you could sell them a coffee during this time, for instance – or something else for that matter. The opportunities are fascinating…” he ponders.
So, too, is the future. And one thing is certain: it will be electric.
BMW i in South Africa
In South Africa, there are three models in the i range: the new i8 Roadster, updated i8 Coupé and updated i3. We recently spent a day driving all three – and they’re marvellous vehicles.
The i3 is the perfect little city car (it is nippy and great fun to drive), while the roadster and coupé are sporty, fun cars for the well-heeled. Like the dentist in Munich, we found that everyone stared at the i8. We could not blame them; it truly is a rather gorgeous and eye-catching car.
As electric cars become more popular in South Africa, the network of charging stations is growing. There are 57 ChargeNow stations installed in South Africa; our favourite is the one at Melrose Arch. (We always relax at one of their many restaurants while the car charges… It’s a super way to pass the day!)