Why BMW is So Bullish on Electric Cars

BMW 330e
BMW electric cars are selling better than the automaker expected | Source: BMW

As GM and Tesla race toward affordable, long-range electric vehicles, German luxury brands have been busy adding plugs to premium vehicles consumers already love. We saw it with Mercedes S Class and Audi A3 plug-in hybrids, but BMW had more success rolling out the X5 xDrive40e, an electrified utility vehicle that’s cracked the top 10 on the U.S. market at a price point that attracts only high-end car buyers.

This turn of events followed the even pricier, more exclusive BMW i8 beating out practical electric and expensive models alike, doing so at an MSRP near $130,000. All told, BMW’s better-than-expected EV sales have made the automaker more bullish than ever on the technology. As 3-Series and 7-Series plug-ins make their way to America along with a longer-range i3, higher plug-in production volumes seem likely for the automaker.

2017 BMW i3
Sales of BMW electric cars have gotten a boost from European incentives and the release of new models | Source:BMW

BMW management noted the surge in its most recent sales report. Dr. Ian Robertson, a member of the automaker’s board of management, said production of new plug-in models from the 2 Series, 3 Series, and 7 Series had “already sold out this year” and said the company would soon “respond” to the demand, presumably with higher output.

Booming European markets would be the place to start. According to the July numbers (per Green Car Journal), 43% of 3 Series sales in the Netherlands were for the plug-in 330e. In Scandinavia, the number was at 45% with even better percentages for the electrified 2 Series model. U.S. sales figures also blew away expectations, beginning with BMW’s longest-range EV.

BMW i3 on a New York street
BMW electric cars hit a 2016 peak in July on the U.S. market | Source: BMW

With 1,479 sales of the i3 in the U.S. in July, BMW crushed its previous 2016 high (814) and showed gains of nearly 50%, year over year. The jump was surprising given the impending arrival of a longer-range (114 mile) version of the same car for the 2017 model year. Meanwhile, sales of the X5 xDrive40e (649) and i8 (166) were close to 2016 highs and the new 330e (81) hit its best mark yet.

While you can expect dealer incentives played a role in the i3’s surge, the appeal of the brand’s plug-in hybrids appears to be old-fashioned Bimmer demand. In Europe — specifically in Germany, where generous government incentives recently kicked in — you can point to the more attractive pricing as the reason the longer-range i3 has been so popular among new-car buyers. Approximately $4,400 is knocked off the sticker price by Germany’s subsidy.

The success has even prompted BMW to take its message back to major TV advertising, something that has been unusual for electric vehicles makers. In an ad that aired during the Olympics, BMW showcased the 330e as “the car you’ve been waiting for without the wait,” which is a thinly veiled jab at the Tesla Model 3 production schedule.

Maybe the publicity and multiple plug-in options — BMW now has five different models on the U.S. market — will make a difference as EV consumers sit in limbo. When the i3 arrives featuring 114 miles, it will be the model with the most range outside of Tesla. Its success (or lack thereof) should be telling for a segment begging for more worthy alternatives to gas in 2016.

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