MUNICH -- BMW's iNext electric, self-driving car is set to enter showrooms in 2021, years after Audi and Mercedes-Benz plan to roll out their own long-range electric vehicles.
With Tesla planning to enter the mainstream of the luxury-vehicle market with the Model 3 next year, BMW is scrambling to regain an innovation edge after rolling out the electric-powered i3 hatchback in 2013. The brand's response is the iNext, which will sit above the 7-series sedan as the brand's flagship model.
The iNext will be "our new innovation driver, with autonomous driving, digital connectivity, intelligent lightweight design, a totally new interior and ultimately bringing the next generation of electro-mobility to the road," CEO Harald Krueger said at BMW's annual shareholders meeting in Munich on Thursday.
The new model is the centerpiece of BMW's effort to defend its position in the luxury-car market as changing consumer tastes challenge the German manufacturer's focus on high-speed autobahn thrills. BMW is responding to pressure from Tesla and traditional rivals like Mercedes as well as the risks posed by tech companies such as Apple and Google.
BMW unveiled the Vision Next 100 futuristic self-driving concept car in March that explores the automaker's ideas for how automobiles will evolve as autonomous vehicles.
The iNext will lag behind similar efforts by key rivals Mercedes and Audi. Both plan to offer models that can cover at least 500 kilometers (311 miles) on a single charge by 2018. Audi will build its first all-electric car as well as the battery at Audi's factory in Brussels. BMW's decision to allow eight years to pass since rolling out the i3 follows sluggish sales for the 160 kilometer-range vehicle, which failed to excite customers in the way Tesla's electric Model 3 sedan has done.
"Starting in 2018, we will launch another electrified car each year," Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said at the Volkswagen unit's annual shareholders meeting Thursday in Ingolstadt. "By 2025, we will see fully automated driving."
The rush of reservations for Tesla's $35,000 Model 3 has highlighted the risk posed to BMW and other upscale carmakers, which rely on a reputation for innovation to charge customers more than mass-market competitors. Since 2013, BMW has sold about 50,000 i3s and i8 plug-in hybrid sports cars, while Tesla got 400,000 deposits for its most mainstream model in the weeks after the March 31 unveiling of the prototype.
Growth on track
BMW may lose its ranking as the world's best-selling luxury-car brand this year for the first time since 2005. Mercedes, benefiting from a rejuvenated product lineup, took the lead during the first quarter, when sales rose more than twice as fast as BMW's.
The battle to stay in the lead contributed to incentives to entice buyers to BMW's relatively older cars. The average price of BMW's vehicles declined 5.9 percent to about 33,700 euros ($38,500) in the first quarter as demand for cheaper cars like the X1 hatchback powered past sales of the revamped 7-Series sedan, according to Bloomberg calculations. Still, BMW said it's on course to meet 2016 targets of delivering slight increases in pretax profit and car sales for the seventh record year in a row, Krueger said.
"After our first quarter, we are on track for the full year," Krueger said, who's been at the helm of the 100-year-old company for a year. "We have always stressed that our centenary is a springboard to the future."
As part of a broader strategy shift, BMW is also expanding into mobility services to take on the likes of Uber Technologies as owning a vehicle becomes less important to city-dwelling consumers. The automaker started a car-sharing program in Seattle last month that offers the option of a chauffeur service as well as people renting out their own vehicles.
Automotive News Europe contributed to this report