BMW CEO sees EV initiatives helping i3 sales in key markets

BMW will add the i3 to its DriveNow car-sharing fleet to help widen the hatchback's appeal among younger drivers.

FRANKFURT -- BMW Group CEO Norbert Reithofer sees political initiatives in a number of the carmaker's key markets as important in helping to boost sales of the i3 electric compact car.

“We can see a clear connection between sales figures and political initiatives,” Reithofer said in a speech at the company's annual press conference in Munich last week. “Wherever governments offer tangible incentives for e-mobility, the registration figures for the BMW i3 soar.”

Reithofer cited Norway, where the automaker sold 2,000 i3s last year, almost a quarter of the market’s overall BMW sales. To encourage sales of electric vehicles Norway offers a well-established charging structure that allows owners to park and charge their vehicles for free. The government levies no sales or registration tax on electric vehicles.

California, where BMW last year sold about 3,000 i3s, about half of the total number sold in the U.S., offers financial subsidies to purchase battery-driven cars. Drivers of EVs are also allowed to use dedicated highway carpool lanes.

In Shanghai, the i3 is not subject to a restrictive licensing process, meaning buyers save more than 10,000 euros, Reithofer said.

European markets including the U.K. and France offer EV buyers financial incentives. In Germany EVs are exempt from the annual vehicle tax for 10 years. BMW sold about 2,100 i3s in Germany last year, about 1 percent of total BMW sales in the country.

Reacting to the relatively low sales of i3s in Germany, Reithofer urged Europe’s biggest market to do more to push electric vehicles. “The German carmakers have delivered their part of the bargain. The ball is in now in the court of policymakers,” he said. Germany needed to “pick up the pace” when it comes to electric mobility, he said.

The German government wants to have 1 million EVs on the country's roads by 2020, and has said it plans to offer further incentives to boost interest in EVs.

BMW will start rolling out the i3 across its global DriveNow car-sharing fleet this spring, beginning with London, Reithofer said. The EV will be added to DriveNow fleets in San Francisco in May and in Hamburg, Berlin and Munich starting in July.

The move will help improve the acceptance of the technology and widen its appeal among younger drivers, Reithofer said.

Long wait for i8

Buyers of the i3's sister model, the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar, must wait more than four months for their vehicles , BMW production boss Harald Krueger said at the annual press conference, according to a German media report.

BMW has doubled daily production of the i8 (shown).

BMW has doubled i8 production at its plant in Leipzig, Germany, to 20 cars a day, the report quoted Kruger as saying.

BMW is currently weighing which type of model it will add to the "i" subbrand, r&d chief Klaus Froehlich told Automotive News Europe earlier this month, disputing reports that said the third model after the i3 and i8 would be a variant of the X5 premium large SUV.

Last year, global sales of the i3 and the i8 were a combined 17,800 units. U.S. sales of the i3 were 6,092 while 555 i8s were sold.

You can reach David Jolley at djolley@crain.com

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