Is BMW Positioned To Become the Leader in Electric Vehicles?

By · November 10, 2014

BMW i3 production in Leipzig, Germany

BMW i3 production in Leipzig, Germany

BMW is barely out of the gate with sales of its i3 and i8 battery-powered cars. Yet, it has already established a leadership role in the electric car world—putting the company in the top echelon of EV-makers along with Tesla and Nissan. As news emerges of more BMW EVs and plug-in hybrids in the works, the German automaker appears to be moving faster than Tesla or Nissan toward an entire suite of plug-in cars.

It’s been six months since the BMW i-branded electric vehicles were introduced in the United States. The company has tallied about 4,500 sales, combined for the i3 and i8. As Green Car Reports points out, one in every 20 BMWs sold since August has a plug.

These vehicles should not be viewed as singular models—but rather as part of a comprehensive electric car program that started with the Mini-E test platform more than six years ago.

Not One Size Fits All

In 2011, contributor Tom Molougney wrote that we should expect BMW to introduce EVs in a range of sizes. There will be a smaller version of the i3, with only two seats, fewer batteries and shorter range. A mini-car, which would be targeted to people living in major urban centers, could be introduced as soon as 2015, according to Moloughney. He wrote that two years later, in 2017, BMW will introduce an Urban Commuter Vehicle: a four-door, five-passenger EV that’s bigger than the i3, with a larger pack and greater range.

Since Moloughney’s report, there have been three years’ worth of rumors about a pint-sized Mini electric car, based on the Mini Rocketman concept. It would be a mini-Mini, about the size of a Smart ForTwo or Scion iQ. Most recently, a recent post on BMW Blog, suggesting that not only will there be an i1 subcompact electric later this decade, but a full lineup of i-branded vehicles, from i1 to an i9 large vehicle (maybe even a crossover SUV).

Now add plug-in hybrids on top of pure EVs. As we posted a couple weeks ago, the more immediate wave of electric Bimmers are likely to use powerful gas engines as well as electric motors and batteries. Unlike the i-branded cars, which are ground-up new designs, the BMW plug-in hybrids will come in conventional form—such as a 2-Series Active Tourer, BMW X5 SUV, and a Mini Cooper Clubman. These new plug-in hybrids, like the BMW electric vehicles before them, have been slowly unveiled as concept models at major international auto shows over a period of years. “We are planning to have a plug-in hybrid vehicle in each and every model series," Peter Wolf, BMW’s head of production line for large vehicles, told in September 2013.

The Ultimate Electric Car Showroom

When Nissan introduced the LEAF, the company promised a suite of four EVs—from a sports car to a small utility. These days, Nissan isn’t saying much about any EV other than LEAF. Meanwhile, Tesla last week announced another delay in release of its Model X SUV, which casts some doubt on a timely release of its more $40,000-ish sedan.

It makes sense that a luxury brand will usher in a new era of battery-powered cars—as relatively expensive battery technology (like most new technologies) starts upscale and then moves toward mainstream acceptance. That’s the first page of Tesla’s playbook. BMW strategists know this as well, and appear to be positioning its premier luxury brands to make a run for leadership in electric cars.

New to EVs? Start here

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