BMW is working a line of electric vehicles (EVs) to be included in its “Project i” series, a sub-brand of BMW. “Project i” vehicles may even have a separate, non-BMW faceplate. According to an Environmental Leader report, BMW parallels its separating of the energy efficient brands from more mainstream ones to its distinguishing of its premium fast cars (labeled “M” instead of “BMW”) and its face-plating of the Mini and Rolls Royce brands. In other words, the separation puts the EVs in something of a “specialty” class of vehicles. But is BMW seeking to have its cake and eat it too: jumping on the EV-manufacturing bandwagon without alienating consumers who are not on-board with sustainable transportation?
In a word, possibly. According to a report by Automobile Magazine, BMW decided to create EVs in order to deal with upcoming “incentives” (read: tax penalties and fuel economy and emissions standards) aimed at greening the auto industry. In the words of BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer, himself, adopting new (green) concepts and technologies will be crucial to carmakers’ survival in upcoming years. Accordingly, BMW is working on a line of green cars, SUVs, and motorcycles, which will complete its “Project i” line. Its first “Project i” vehicle, the MINI E electric car, is already being tested by 500 customers in California, Environmental Leader says.
Interestingly, BMW’s announcement that it would create the EV sub-brand was surprising – to those aware of the company’s previous announcement that it would make an all-new brand for the EV’s. Apparently BMW chose sub-branding because it will retain the BMW moniker and reduce the time and overhead costs of marketing and selling the EVs.
On the other hand, there are additional factors to consider in analyzing BMW’s motives. For example, BMW is also already developing its first two hybrid vehicles (the BMW 7 Series and the X6), whose fuel efficiencies (at 20 percent) trump those of other German car makers’ hybrids (e.g. Daimler AG). Some experts also believe Germany’s auto industry is a bite late in the game in terms of electric vehicle manufacture. And, by definition, green auto incentives are, well, incentives.
I suppose the answer to my cake eating question boils down, in part, to BMW’s consumer base, and to BMW’s relative insulation against auto industry woes (if such a thing exists). Are Beemer owners easily persuaded to buy green? Is the BMW image compatible with that of EV technology? And finally, with BMW’s “staying power”, couldn’t it to go out on a limb and include EVs in its existing brands?