BMW wants its mainstream models to benefit quickly from the cutting-edge technology offered in its i3 and i8, such as carbon fiber construction and high-performance, low-CO2 powertrains. BMW brand sales boss Ian Robertson explained the company's strategy to Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri.
Q: Will your next i model be a fuel cell called the i5, as media reports say?
A: There is no other specific i product signed off for production. We are, however, spreading some of the technology from our i models into our more mainstream cars. For example, next-generation cars that are coming soon will make more extensive use of carbon fiber. They will not have full carbon fiber structures, but they are going to have carbon fiber in the structure of the passenger compartment, in suspension components and so on.
The i8 plug-in hybrid supercar soon will be joined by plug-in variants of the 3 series and X5. Which other models will have plug-in variants?
Plug-in hybrid technology is so flexible that it can be integrated in a wide variety of vehicles, so there is clearly more to come. What is important is that the plug-in technology will be one of the key levers to bringing high-performance vehicles well below 100 grams per kilometer of CO2, while retaining the driving pleasure and driving dynamics of a BMW.
Audi charges a premium of up to 13,000 euros ($15,919) on A3 plug-ins compared with the base gasoline model. Mercedes has priced the V-6 plug-in S class at nearly the same level as its V-8 gasoline model. What will be BMW's pricing strategy for plug-ins?
We always start our projects by asking ourselves what we think the price point in the marketplace is -- and the price point has narrow elasticity. One of the challenges with the hybrids on the market today is that the consumer has said, "OK, it is very interesting, but actually, I quite like my diesel engine, and there is not a lot of difference in terms of CO2."
I think the advent of the plug-ins is changing this perception, because here you can really drive for a good period of time in full electric mode and at a good speed. However, we are not in an industry where price is determined by cost-plus. You can maybe do that with military hardware, but not the automotive industry.
So it always starts with where we think the price point needs to be. If you add an electric motor onto a smaller engine, you generally get the output of a bigger engine and therefore you establish a pricing framework.
When does BMW see electric cars costing about the same as a model with an internal combustion engine?
It depends on when we reach the point where the additional costs of keeping the internal combustion engine within the legislative framework equal or exceed the costs of a battery-powered vehicle.
First, the electric motor is at a very early stage in development, and the batteries will see significant steps forward in the next few years. I think we will soon see electrification costs for the customer come down, and that's a curve that we're on.
At the same time, if you look at the need to put SCR [selective catalytic reduction] technology on a wide range of engines to make them compliant with Euro 6 emissions rules, you are not only adding a lot of cost, but, just as important, a lot of weight.
At some point, the electric motor and the battery could be more efficient and potentially cheaper. We do not know today where that crosses over, and I don't think the industry really knows yet. However, there definitely is a trend in that direction.
What percentage of i3 buyers add a gasoline-powered range extender?
About half. Many customers would like to have the range extender, but in some countries, legislation steers them toward pure battery power. In the U.K., we have a majority of range extenders.
In Norway we have virtually none because range-extended vehicles do not qualify for all the incentives given to pure BEVs [battery-electric vehicles].
Overall, I would say the mix is more regulation-driven than customer-driven.
Is it correct to call an i3 with a range extender a plug-in hybrid?
It is not. It is a battery-powered vehicle where only the electric motor powers the wheels.