BMW's EV boss says i3 is no 'niche' model
Ulrich Kranz: ''We are offering the first electric car in the premium segment.''
BMW unveiled the i3 coupe concept, another variant of its i electric car subbrand, at the Los Angeles auto show today. The BMW executive in charge of the i subbrand, Ulrich Kranz, spoke with Automobilwoche, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe, before the show about why the i3 is not a niche product and about the use of lightweight, expensive carbon fiber as a construction material.
Why will customers choose expensive electric cars such as the i3?
We are offering something that has not existed to this point: the first electric car in the premium segment. With its driving performance and dynamics, the i3 will generate as much pleasure as a car with a traditional powertrain. It will reach the market at a competitive price in late 2013.
You are selling cars with carbon fiber bodies. This drives up the price.
We are convinced about carbon fiber. It is not just the lightest material around. It is corrosion-free and holds its strength and rigidity over the life of the vehicle and far beyond it. It still offers a great deal of potential. We have customized the material precisely for automobile production with our partner SGL. We don't need to turn to the carbon developed for the aerospace industry. That puts us on a lower level on the cost side.
The hype over EVs has subsided. Will it be more difficult to attract EV buyers next year?
In the world's megacities, zero-emission vehicles are in demand. There is also a demand for a holistic, sustainable approach that extends across materials, production, service life and recycling. We are also pursuing convenient charging at home and on the road.
Do you have reference values for comparisons with a conventional car?
At the project launch, we resolved to cut the overall CO2 footprint in half compared to a BMW 1-series diesel. Today, we can say that when the customer buys an i3 and then charges it up with green electricity over its entire lifecycle, the footprint will be cut in half. At 50 percent, we still have not reached an end to the possibilities. But we have reached our objective for the first stage.
What are metropolitan customers demanding besides sustainability?
We have to give them more than just a vehicle. We offer the possibility of networking the car with the infrastructure immediately. This already works very well in Tokyo because the city has a tremendous infrastructure and a good public transportation network. Drivers expect to network immediately with their car and the environment using a smartphone. It is also important for them to find independent charging stations for the i3. If they run into a traffic jam, they can work in their vehicles. The interior is appropriately configured for this. In the concept car, you also see a bench seat. The entire interior has a home-like character.
Are conventional minicars an alternative to EV city cars?
They have clearly been rejected – whether you are in Asia, the U.S. or Europe. Minicars are not considered safe. Customers want to make sure that we are taking care of the environment, but they do not want to do without comfort.
In what markets do you intend to sell the i3?
We are starting with Europe. We basically want to serve all the classic markets that we cover with BMW and Mini.
The i3 is being built in Leipzig, Germany. What capacity are you starting out with?
We have clear objectives but I cannot cite them for you yet.
We have heard that the plant will give your niche model an annual capacity of about 30,000 units.
It won't be a niche model.
BMW usually builds a model in two factories. Does that also apply to your i subbrand?
No. All the manufacturing facilities are at Leipzig, our most advanced factory. It is our most sustainable location. We are currently building our first two wind turbines there. There will be a total of four. This allows us to assure that the production of i models is entirely powered by renewable energy. This is starting out as a pilot project, but we will see more in the future. The i8 sports car with a plug-in hybrid powertrain will come off the line in Leipzig as well.
When will the i8 reach the market?
Shortly after the i3 in early 2014.
What other i models are you planning?
It is clear that there is a good deal of room available between the i3 and i8. Our factory in Leipzig also still has plenty of space. But it is too early to say today which other i models we would be able to introduce and when we will be able to do so. We are fully focused on the first two.
Do your further plans depend on how well the i3 and i8 do?
They will do well.
You can reach Pia Krix at email@example.com.