BMW has been in a quandary about how to move forward in the world of electric cars. It was fast out of the gate. It’s “i” division brought the i3 sedan and i8 sports car to market shortly after Tesla and Nissan debuted their electric cars, but things stalled since then. Sales have been less than BMW had hoped for. Unlike Tesla, which started building its proprietary Supercharger network right away, people who bought an i3 or i8 in 2013 found that charging them away from home was a complicated and often frustrating task.
After all the hype and hoopla about its “i” cars, BMW lost the plot. Stories appeared over the last several years about what the next car to wear the “i” badge would be like. Top company officials suggested it would be an all new sedan; others said it would be a modified version of the company’s 5 Series sedan. Rumors surfaced suggesting the next car would appear in 2018, 2019, 2020, or 2021. Clearly, economic realities have cooled BMW’s passion for electric cars and it has little idea how to proceed to the next level.
The i3 and i8 made extensive use of carbon fiber structural panels to save weight. BMW pioneered innovative new bonding techniques that made it possible to meld carbon fiber components with steel or aluminum. But carbon fiber is expensive. Just last week, the company admitted that it was cutting back on the amount of carbon fiber uses in its lower priced models to save costs.
Against this backdrop, the company has finally pulled a rabbit out of its hat. Last week, it announced that the next model from its “i” division will be an SUV known as the i5. And wonder of wonders, it will go on sale in 2021, fully 6 years after the Tesla Model X, the world’s first electric SUV. Since it typically takes 5 years to design a new car from the ground up and get it into production, the timing suggests that BMW didn’t even start planning its next “i” car until the Model X burst on the scene. So much for being an industry leader.
British automotive magazine Autoweek says sources tell it that BMW has settled on an SUV for the next “i” car. That’s only logical, since SUVs are what the majority of new car buyers around the world are clamoring for. Previously, the rumor mill said the next car would be a sedan somewhat larger than the i3 to be called the i4. Those plans, if they ever existed, are now toast.
Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales and marketing, says his company will wait until 2021 for its next major vehicle launch so it can take advantage of “the next big steps in electric motor, battery and autonomy.” He is putting a brave face on what has obviously been a dismal failure for his company.
“We are at the very early stages of “i”, but already we’re coming up to our 100,000th registration. Just as with M, there are opportunities that take time to build up, from i cars to i Performance products to i kit, such as an electric scooter. We conceived the i brand to work for the long term. The electric car market is emerging but we see enough to be confident that consumers are understanding what it is about. What’s more, 80% of i customers are new to BMW.”
The “i” cars have been more than worth the effort, he claims. “The beauty of those cars is that they give us a competency in the field of electric cars and lightweight technology — not just in people, but in manufacturing, too. We are way ahead in the manufacturing of lightweight carbon fiber, for instance.”
In fairness, the latest version of the i3 has seen a significant increase in sales since the company gave it more range by installing a more powerful battery earlier this year. But total sales are still far below what BMW had hoped for when it started this whole “i” division thing. At the rate Tesla is gobbling up market share with its electric cars, BMW had better hope it is still in business by the time the i5 is ready for prime time.
Source and image credit: Autocar