Is BMW falling behind in electric cars?
BMW was the first of the three major German automotive empires to create a hybrid-electric sub-brand with the the debut of its i division. But several years after the debut of the i3 and the i8 — both with the feel of halo models despite the relatively moderate price of the i3 — the Munich-based automaker is at risk of being outpaced by VW and Mercedes-Benz.
How did this come about?
Despite the debut of the i3 back in 2013 and the similarly powered plug-in hybrid i8 a year later, Bloomberg notes, BMW has not offered a pure-electric vehicle to go up against anything Tesla, Nissan or even Renault has offered. Instead, BMW has focused on converting existing models to plug-in hybrid versions and currently only has two new battery-powered cars in the pipeline scheduled to debut before 2020. BMW has also lost electric and design talent to other automakers and has failed to inspire the same kind of interest in the redesigned versions of the 7-Series and the 5-Series, cars that have historically paved the way for the German brand.
As a result, Bloomberg notes, there is a sense of urgency to catch up to rivals including Tesla, as the i3 and i8 are already getting old when it comes to new pure-electric vehicles planned by Mercedes-Benz and VW. The former has just launched its own electric car sub-brand dubbed EQ and plans to offer electric versions of common bodystyles, designed to appeal to gasoline-engine car consumers; the latter is pushing into the future with a lineup of common-platform small and midsize models, one of which will use the design of the classic Microbus MPV as a starting point.
BMW does not have a Microbus in its history that it can electrify (though it does have a 2002), and its Tesla Model S rival dubbed iNext is still a concept, not scheduled to launch until 2021. That timeframe may as well be a decade away in the universe of electric cars, by which time a large and expensive halo sedan may not provide the sales volume a major EV automaker needs.
All of BMW’s current competitors are downsizing from expensive and complex electric cars meant for wealthy “early adopters” to small and midsize EVs with rapidly increasing ranges designed to appeal to first-time EV buyers. These new models are all meant to convert traditional fuel-car buyers to EV buyers with no-fuss charging and ranges long enough for worry-free weekend jaunts.
BMW finds itself almost caught asleep behind the wheel as the game has turned to affordable, everyday EVs that pose a viable alternative to gas- and diesel-engined models. The specter of the Tesla Model 3 (designed to invite a comparison to a popular midsize BMW sedan) scheduled to enter production in a matter of weeks will draw plenty of responses from other German automakers, with the likely exception of BMW itself. Munich does not appear to have a pure-electric version of the 3-Series in the pipeline, despite seemingly having most of the required components.
Following the Tesla Model 3’s debut, BMW loyalists interested in a similar model from Munich won’t find much. The closest thing is a 330e hybrid sedan with a pure-electric range of just 14 miles. That doesn’t pass muster in comparison to the latest plug-in hybrids and EVs on showroom floors and in competitors’ pipelines.