Just a few short weeks ago, we reported that senior executives at BMW would skip the Paris auto show this year to hold a seance about how the company should move forward into the electric car future. Of particular interest was the question of whether an undated electric version of the MINI would ever get built. But while the suits are off in some swanky resort this week hammering out strategy, the company is telling folks at the Paris show that it will indeed introduce an electric MINI soon, with an electric version of its X3 cued to follow.
CEO Harald Krueger told the press on Friday that a new electric MINI will be in showrooms in 2019 and will be followed in 2020 by a battery electric version of the BMW X3 sport utility vehicle. Both will have “competitive” range and pricing, he said. “Competitors are now in phase one on their electric strategy, while we’re entering phase two,” said Krueger. “We’re already well on our way to electrifying the core portfolio, using powertrain technology from BMW i.”
Those competitors include Tesla Motors, which will introduce its more affordable Model 3 before either of BMW’s new offerings. Chevrolet begins production of the Bolt later this year. Mercedes says it is planning a new division dedicated to electric cars. Volkswagen is taking the wraps off its I.D. long-range electric car in Paris this week. Audi and Porsche also have plans afoot to join the electric car party as well. While waiting for its electric cars to arrive, BMW is busy adding plug-in technology to every car in its lineup from the 3 Series to the X5 and its flagship car, the 7 Series sedan.
Where does this leave BMW’s i division? That’s an excellent question. While VW and Mercedes are intent on creating new electric car brands, BMW seems to be going in the opposite direction, applying electric powertrains to existing models instead of crafting more stand-alone products like the i3 and i8.
The road ahead for manufacturers as the world transitions to electric vehicles is fraught with danger. BMW was fast out of the starting blocks 4 years ago but seems to have lost the plot recently. It remains to be seen if the company can compete successfully with re-engineered electric versions of its mainstream cars instead of building cars designed for electric power from the ground up. It’s a risky strategy that could backfire as mounting the battery low in the chassis underneath the floor — as pioneered by Tesla — becomes the norm.