BMW pushes ahead with EVs, green technology
Dave Guilford is enterprise editor of Automotive News.
This is a time of retrenchment in electric vehicles and alternative powertrains. Entrepreneurs are flaming out -- sometimes literally. And major automotive players are quietly putting their more adventuresome technologies on the back burner.
But that's not universally true. Last week, BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer reaffirmed his company's commitment to new technology, particularly electric drive.
"We consider electric mobility a technology with the potential to achieve emission-free driving pleasure," Reithofer said in a statement accompanying BMW's third-quarter earnings.
BMW is launching its small i3 EV next year. Reithofer went on to say that "BMW is far more than electric drive," pointing to the company's efforts to use recycled materials and provide for end-of-life recycling. BMW also is adopting renewable energy in its manufacturing.
So why is BMW pushing forward? Regulatory pressure for lower emissions and higher fuel economy are particularly challenging for a company whose business model includes strong profits on powerful, luxurious cars.
But global demographic trends show why automakers can't delay their sustainability efforts indefinitely. You might remember that the i3 came out of the BMW Megacity Project, initiated in 2007.
That term -- "megacity" -- is significant. Automakers are looking at projections by the United Nations that the world's population will cluster into megacities -- urban areas with populations of more than 10 million.
The UN projects that by 2015, the world will have 35 cities of that size with a total population of nearly 360 million.
Those cities will be the hubs for global business, wealth and consumption. They also will be the places where automobile use is likely to be restricted: Witness the city of London's congestion charge of £10 -- about $16 -- a day for most motor vehicles to drive into the center city.
To fit into that densely packed landscape, automakers will have to develop new forms of mobility. Perhaps that's why BMW is also partnering in a car-sharing program, DriveNow, in Germany and San Francisco.
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