BMW PHEV strategy well-grounded

BMW New Zealand's boss explains how it plans to sell its plug-in electric versions of popular mainstream models.


THE next phase of BMW’s electric vehicle plan is enacting here.

The iPerformance programme is a push to normalize a technology that, like it or not, is destined to become an integral part of our driving experience.

Munich has essentially plucked the electric motors, battery cells and electronic control systems from the i3 and i8 and plonked it into vehicles from the core BMW line-up to created a plug-in electric hybrid fleet.

For this market that’s the 3-Series sedan, 2-Series Active Tourer, X5 and 7-Series.

Motoring Network has driven the 330e and 225 xe Active Tourer; you can read about that in our First Drives section.

We’ve also sat down with BMW New Zealand manager director Florian Renndorfer, pictured, to discuss the reasons for bringing the eDrive models here and his expectations for those cars.

MN: Why is this the right time to introduce iPerformance to New Zealand?

When we launched the i3 and i8 at the end of 2014 they were different to the competition in being purpose-built for electric and also from sustainable materials. These cars were the first step in the electric vehicle strategy. The feedback we got in 2015 and winning the New Zealand car of the year showed we were right to have those cars – it was the first COTY for an electric car.

So, this is now the second step. We decided to bring the whole PHEV range here – it makes absolute sense to have the widest range here. And, of course, there are further opportunities in the future.

MN: What percentage of total BMW New Zealand volume do the i3 and i8 capture and what is the predicted volume for the iPerformance cars?

The ‘i’ cars take around two percent at the moment, which is similar to their performance in 2015 and is actually a high percentage in the world-wide scheme of things and is also the highest for our region. In respect to the PHEV cars?

The interest and demand from our dealers is huge; we will are now only presenting the cars to them and will have a roadshow in July-August for our customers to drive the cars. We believe there is a high interest from the public but we also think it is too early to be talking about volumes and percentages.

What I can say is that, for example, we’ve seen that in, the past two months in the United Kingdom, one in every eight Three Series sold is a 330e. This gives us an indication, but perhaps every country is different.

MN: Only select dealerships sell i3 and i8 whereas you have said that every BMW outlet will be able to sell the iPerformance cars. Will the strategy ever change so that ‘i’ and iPerformance models will sell side-by-side everywhere?

Every dealer in New Zealand will sell iPerformance cars, the whole range. The PHEVs will be sold everywhere. With the ‘i’ cars, it depends on volume because those products demand a certain investment.

There’s a requirement for special tools and specific training, with the corporate identity and our product geniuses (employees whose specific task is to explain, and demonstrate, high-tech features to car shoppers).

MN: Which of the iPerformance models do you imagine will gain greatest volume here?

This is a difficult question. I’m convinced all of them will be successful.

For the corporate user market maybe the 2-Series Active Tourer will be much more attractive than, perhaps, a Three-Series or the X5. For the private consumer market, I could imagine the Three and the X5 are strong.

MN: The Motor Industry Association (which represents new vehicle distributors) has forecast that 28 electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid models will be available to New Zealand consumers by 2020; how many of these do you anticipate being BMW or BMW family models?

We have more in the pipeline, but we’re not talking about these at the moment.

MN: How long before a MINI with plug-in hybrid technology comes to New Zealand?

MINI is also in the pipeline. People are talking about it. But, again, we have no date at the moment.

MN: Does BMW New Zealand intend to add more ‘i’ models to its mix and when?

It’s the same answer. We created the brand here and obviously there is space for more.

MN: What chance is there are that 330e and the i3 might be cross-shopped?

I think that very much depends on a customer’s needs and what drives them. I think the drivers for electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars will be technology. The technology is different in those cars and that will drive those cars.

Also coming into it is environmental awareness. If you were driving 30kms a day, you could do it entirely in electric in a PHEV; but if you are driving longer distance (in electric) then it might speak more clearly for the i3. Cost of ownership is also something quite interesting with the PHEV especially when you compare the commuting cost over the petrol or diesel (equivalents).

MN: Will the i3 range extender remain in the market now that you have plug-in hybrid versions of mainstream BMW cars?

We will offer both the REX (range extender) and the BEV (battery pure) models.

MN: Is all this investment by BMW New Zealand simply to main pace with rival brands – specifically Audi and Mercedes – since they also plan to offer plug-in hybrid versions of mainstream models?

I would say that BMW was going a different way in creating it’s ‘i’ brand. With this (iPerformance) it’s another statement in that direction. I’m happy that BMW has, now, the widest range of PHEVs in New Zealand.

We have the first-mover advantage; we are the first to offer these cars in the premium market.

MN: In your view, are there any impediments to electric vehicle expansion in the New Zealand market?

The first one is awareness. Awareness of the technology and having trust in the technology. That's why having it in the 2-Series, the 3-Series, the X5 is a plus. It helps normalise the technology.

Everything is changing. Even one year ago few people were talking about this. Now there’s been a big shift, especially after the Government announcement (for electric vehicle promotion).

I think that has been a step in the right direction in regard to creating awareness. It’s a first step in the right direction.

I think what’s really great about the Government announcement is not just that it creates general awareness, but also puts the topic of charging on the table. That there is a yearly fund, as I understand, for promotion and one for electric vehicle projects. Also, the announcement also gives opportunity for companies to give more thought about their corporate fleets.