BMW makes ‘great leap forward’ with electric car

AFP-JIJI, Bloomberg

BMW on Monday took the bold strategic step of revealing its first all-electric car and said it plans to clinch a significant share of a market still in its infancy.

Launching its BMW i3 model, the German group compared the prospects of the electric car market to the technical revolution of the mobile telephone but declined to give any sales or production targets.

“What the mobile phone did for communication, electric mobility will do for individual mobility,” Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer said as the car debuted in London, Beijing and New York. “The BMW i3 is more than an evolutionary step — it is a great leap forward.”

The series-produced model will go on sale in Europe in November, to be followed in the United States, China, Japan and several other markets in the first half of 2014.

It will hit the German market at a price of €34,950 ($46,438) and has a range of about 130 to 160 km.

Customers can book a conventional auto like the full-sized X5 SUV for several weeks a year for family trips or as a backup. The “add-on mobility” feature, for which BMW hasn’t yet revealed pricing, is part of the manufacturer’s effort to overcome a major concern about electric vehicles, namely getting stuck on the side of the road with a dead battery.

Commercial director Ian Robertson told reporters that the market for electric cars is still young but said BMW is not seeking to be a niche player.

“We’re entering the market to be a significant player,” he said.

The Munich-based company trumpeted technological features of the model, which can seat four, including a carbon-fiber passenger cell to help offset the weight of the batteries and an aluminium chassis.

Ian Henry, director of research company AutoAnalysis, said it is too early to say how well the model will do.

“There is still some reluctance from the part of the customers for full electric vehicles,” he said, but added, “BMW doesn’t make many mistakes.”

BMW said the global market for electric vehicles is showing “positive development.”

“After almost 93,000 electric vehicles were registered worldwide last year, a total of 150,000 units is already forecast for the current year,” a statement said.

Germany set a target in 2008 of having 1 million electric cars on its roads in 2020 and said it wants to be a pilot market in the field.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel has acknowledged that the country will struggle to reach the target while insisting the goal should not be dropped.

The government offers tax incentives to electric-car drivers, but campaigners say much more needs to be done to encourage people to switch from gasoline or diesel to electric vehicles.