DETROIT -- Time is one of the most sought-after luxuries, and the auto industry is using technology to give customers more of it, says Ian Robertson, BMW board member for sales and marketing.
“We are seeking more time, and our customers are wanting more time,” he said Tuesday here at the 2015 Automotive News World Congress.
BMW has introduced ways to give customers more time and respond to macrotrends with technologies like active cruise control, traffic jam assist and apps that give traffic information in real time, remotely warm a car and even clear the icy windshield, Robertson said.
BMW has also heavily invested in its plug-in electric and hybrid i car program, Robertson said. The i3 plug-in electric compact car and i8 plug-in hybrid two-seat sports car both went on sale in 2014. The program will be expanded and the carbon fiber and plug-in hybrid technology developed for these cars will now be spread across BMW’s lineup, he said.
“We are absolutely committed to continue this road of sheer driving please but with zero emissions when it is needed.”
BMW is addressing the challenge many cities of having insufficient funds to build an electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It has developed a “smart lamppost” that is being tested in Munich. It uses light emitting diode, or LED, and is 70 percent cheaper than a conventional lamppost. “By putting a plug on the bottom, it becomes a charging station,” Robertson said.
“You could as a city, get the electricity for nothing and your electric bill would not go up,” Robertson said.
Customers are also more connected and use digital tools to shop for cars, Robertson said. The number of visits to a dealership before a typical car purchase has dropped from four in 2003 to one in 2014.
To keep pace with this trend, BMW introduced its Genius program with product experts who roam showrooms with iPads and whose sole job is to provide information. They don’t sell cars or make a commission. BMW now has 2,000 Geniuses worldwide, Robertson said.
Some U.S. dealers perceived that the Genius program “was just another cost, and we put in some support to make sure that wasn’t the case,” Robertson said.
Once they saw results, some U.S. dealerships cut the number of salespeople they employ and added Geniuses, he said. “The roles are changing.”
Reacting to the trend of younger people not wanting to own cars, BMW has a car sharing program called DriveNow that operates in eight cities including San Francisco. It has 400,000 active members worldwide and has moved “past the break-even point,” said Robertson.
“These are people who may never own a car, insure a car or put fuel on a car,” he said.
One future BMW technology was previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month: a self-parking research vehicle that uses laser light to find a space and park itself.
Robertson also said BMW is committed to development of “highly automated” vehicles for “when driving is no fun,” in situations such as traffic jams.
The industry and BMW are “in good shape and moving forward,” with technologies that will be on the market in the months and years ahead, Robertson said. He would be pinned down on the timeline, but said some would come before the end of the decade.