By on September 19, 2016

2015 BMW i3

The LAPD liked them enough to buy a bundle, but lackluster demand for the oddly proportioned i3 has BMW executives locked in a battle over the brand’s product direction.

“Do we, or don’t we?” is the question, aimed squarely at the automaker’s plans to develop a number of electric vehicles. If this one isn’t selling well, some of the company’s top brass figure, why would we invest in building more?

According to Automotive News, the two camps are so divided that BMW’s management board has planned an intervention.

Most German automakers appear gung-ho on electric vehicles, with big plans to make EVs a significant part of their fleet. However, BMW isn’t so sure how many eggs it wants to throw in that basket.

Sales of the i3, which is available as a pure battery EV or an extended-range EV, barely topped 11,000 units sold in the U.S. last year. European sales barely topped U.S. figures. In California this past June, one dealer offered a free i3 lease with the purchase of a new BMW. That doesn’t do anything to give company execs much confidence in consumer demand.

The i3 project was ex-CEO Norbert Reithofer’s baby. In his current role as supervisory board chairman, Reithofer has reportedly leaned on his successor, Harald Krueger, to expand the brand’s electric lineup. In a plan announced earlier this year, BMW said it wants seven “i” vehicles, with the possibility of an electric Mini.

Krueger’s continuation of Reithofer’s vision is now creating sparks with other bigwigs. Unless i3 sales improve, the executives want no further investment in EVs.

Now, BMW’s top brass will miss the upcoming Paris Motor Show, travelling instead to far less glamorous meetings organized to break the stalemate.

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62 Comments on “Two Tribes: Weak i3 Sales Have BMW Execs Battling Over Company’s EV Future...”


  • avatar
    stingray65

    It gets even worse when you look at resale values – 50% off sticker after less than 2 years. From most reports the i3 is the best of the “reasonably” priced EVs in terms of sporty drive and efficiency, so the low sales and poor resale has to be discouraging for managers that have staked their reputation on supporting the “i” line. I also have to wonder if the attention and profits given the the “i” line has led BMW to put less effort and resources into their bread and butter models – the 3 and 5 series, and X5 have all slipped relative to competitors in the most recent versions, while the brand new 7 series also seems to be getting lackluster reviews.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      50% is pretty good for boutique consumer tech. Compare the % of new for 24-month-old smartphones or high-end TVs.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      MY16s trade between 30 and 33… the model starts at 42,8

      BMW i3 Range Ext Mega

      8/26/16 Manheim Fort Lauderdale Regular $30,200 3,743 Avg WHITE EL A No
      08/09/16 Manheim New Jersey Factory $40,250 2,658 Avg SOLAR OR EL No
      08/05/16 Manheim Fort Lauderdale Regular $31,400 3,650 Avg BLACK EL A No
      06/01/16 Manheim Orlando Regular $33,000 338 Avg BLACK EL A No

      MY14s trade 20-23 clean

      09/07/16 Manheim Palm Beach Lease $23,200 6,132 Avg LAUREL G EL A Yes
      08/24/16 Manheim New Jersey Lease $20,250 12,975 Avg ANDESITE EL A Yes
      08/24/16 Manheim New Jersey Lease $18,750 24,351 Below LAUREL G EL A Yes
      08/17/16 Manheim Atlanta Lease $23,000 2,904 Avg ANDESITE EL A Yes
      07/28/16 Manheim Orlando Lease $23,800 1,573 Above IONIC SI EL A Yes
      07/27/16 Manheim New Jersey Lease $20,000 15,346 Avg ANDESITE EL A Yes

      The sad truth is the market doesn’t want these nor did it ask for them. Despite this I think the i3 would do a bit better if it’s overall design wasn’t retarded in almost every way it could be.

      • 0 avatar
        baconator

        You’re spot-on. If Tesla can get as many pre-orders for Model 3s in one week as BMW sells 3-series in one year, it’s pretty obvious there is a market for EVs.

        Just not ugly ones with the proportions of a phone booth and the range of a Hoverstick.

  • avatar
    Asdf

    The i3 should have been a proof of concept only. EVs in general are pathetic and laughable with their high prices, short ranges and long charging times, and if BMW intends to have a future in EVs at all, it needs to fix all of these 3 issues, or else it should abandon EVs entirely (as should Tesla, Renault-Nissan, GM, VW et al).

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      Many companies have addressed point 2, are quickly addressing point 1, and some have dealt with point 3 fairly well.

      Too bad BMW doesn’t want to do that.

      • 0 avatar
        Asdf

        Some companies are trying to address point 2 (short range), but nobody has come close to solving it yet. And nobody does point 3 (charging times) even halfway decently, all EVs take forever to charge compared with a petrol car. Which is pathetic.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          We have a great solution for range.

          We call ’em “hybrids”.

          Why people focus so much on pure EVs rather than “hybrids with bigger batteries” is beyond me.

          The latter gets you more goodness and more reasonable prices, while still driving development of the bits that improve EV-mode range.

          • 0 avatar
            George B

            Sigvald wrote: “Why people focus so much on pure EVs rather than “hybrids with bigger batteries” is beyond me.”

            Virtue signalling plus solo HOV lane access in California.

        • 0 avatar
          whynot

          We are at the point now were EV’s have 200+ mi of reliable range. Gone are the days where the top EV’s struggled to just hit 80 mi.

          That is not short ranged, and doesn’t make them “pathetic”. Shorter range than ICEs yes, and still a problem on long trips but most people are not driving 200 mi every day.

          Who cares how long it takes EV’s take to charge in your garage at night.

          They are not perfect for everyone and for every mission (neither are ICEs), but we are quickly reaching the point where pure EV’s are actually viable for most people rather than being a toy to show off to your neighbors.

          • 0 avatar
            Blackcloud_9

            My point exactly.
            Thank you.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            Which EV’s have a 200+ miles of range? AFAIK, it’s Tesla and ???

            The Bolt sure looks like it will have this range, but that’s not a lot of choice.

            “we are quickly reaching the point where pure EV’s are actually viable for most people”

            If this were true, EV sales would reflect this.

          • 0 avatar
            whynot

            EV sales are reflecting that- they are generally rising. Look at the excitement (justified or not) over the Tesla Model 3.

            Production limits and prices doesn’t mean we are going to see a sudden shift.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            Profitable carmakers don’t sell EV’s in any meaningful numbers. They’re compliance cars. They’re not cars viable for most people, and as a result, most people don’t buy them.

            They might be viable for you, but not for most.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Longer range isn’t a mystery. It requires a larger battery.

            Most automakers try to use smaller batteries and rely upon weight reduction because of the high cost of batteries. The 80+/- mile range is a byproduct of pushing down the battery cost as much as possible.

            Tesla provides a larger battery and takes a financial hit for doing it. Other automakers have refrained from Tesla’s business model because it has predictably been a money loser.

            The lesson is that EV buyers are few in number, but they want something for nothing. Without subsidies and prices so low that they can’t produce profit, people don’t really want them.

            If you want to learn about the market, then go raise the price of a Model S by $25k and then see what that does to sales.

        • 0 avatar
          la834

          But unlike a petrol car, that hours-long recharge can occur in your home garage while you’re asleep. That beats even a five-minute wait at a gas station in my book.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            +1

            I rode in an i3 this afternoon. Seriously fast little car.

            Was plenty roomy and comfortable.

            Too me it was a weird little car before, now I’m considering it as a replacement vehicle when our daily driver wears out.

    • 0 avatar
      seth1065

      Asdf,
      I am no fan of EV, I drive to much for them to be useful to me and I am not a fan of tax breaks on them , but they are and will be a part of the auto future, I laughed when you said Telsa should get out of EV, if they did they would have nothing to sell at all, the cars are improving, the tech is getting better, like all tech it starts off w folks who are willing to be the zealots and as it gets better in gets mainstreamed. I am surprised BMW who seems to invent new white space where none was before would make a EV decision based on one car.

      • 0 avatar
        Asdf

        Tesla should give up on EVs if it can’t fix the three flaws I mentioned – unlike other auto companies it is an EV only company, so it needs to prove it has a reason to exist. So far it’s not only failed, but failed miserably, making the very concept of an EV a joke in the process.

        • 0 avatar
          whynot

          There is a lot of questions about Tesla’s finances and long term feasibility as a company, but you will be hard pressed to find people who agree that they “failed miserably.”

          The Model S basically brought pure EV’s to the mainstream, and has been a technical success (financial? debatable). Tesla is not really having any major issues actually selling their cars.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            I wouldn’t call 70k plus cars ‘mainstream’.

          • 0 avatar
            whynot

            70k+ sales for a pure EV? From a completely new, unknown brand? With a very limited sales network? With a ~$65,000+ MSRP? I would.

            Mainstream does not equal huge. Pure EV’s are no longer looked at as strange and largely impractical oddities that the odd tech junkie drives like the GM EV1. It is viewed as a viable piece of transportation, across the country, rather than a toy in some loopy Californian’s garage. That is how Tesla brought EV’s mainstream.

            Do you even remember how people viewed Tesla before the Model S, when they were playing around with the Roadster? No one took them, or what they were doing, seriously. Compare that to now, where Tesla enjoys Apple like devotion, even among non-Tesla owners, and is able to spin that into ~400,000 preorders for an EV that is still over a year away from hitting the market.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            Tesla has successfully marketed themselves and Musk has done a great job manipulating marketing and pr through Twitter. No doubt about that.

            70k isn’t a mainstream car. It’s a car for wealthy people.

            I believe Tesla called those deposits, not pre-orders. We’ll see how many of those convert to purchases.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          I have a 100+ mile range Leaf and don’t have issues with charging or range. I put about 18,500 miles per year on it and haven’t had any problems. Today I drove it 105 miles. Most of the miles were highway miles at the speed limit. I topped up the charge near my destination during breakfast. I could have charged at the destination, but with 89 miles on the range meter, I didn’t bother.

          Charging is never an issue for me. I’m either working, eating, or sleeping while charging. If I’m in a rush, usually about 10-12 minutes at a quick charger is enough to get me to my destination with some padding. Public charging is so plentiful where I live, I can get picky about amenities at the location.

          Locally, I can perform most errands and get back with 90+ miles range on the meter. Most of my long trips are too far for a car and I fly. My leaf has some ICE garage-mates, so that’s an option as well, but I’d really rather drive the Leaf for errands, commuting, and trips under 200-300 miles round trip. It’s the workhorse of the household and does it’s job quite well.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            The BMW i3 I mentioned before is only charged a few times per week the owner said. Plenty of range for his commute plus errands around town.

  • avatar
    whynot

    Maybe they shouldn’t make it ugly with limited range and a highly misleading and largely useless “range extender” engine option.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Auto executives kill me. They believe they have designed the perfect product, and when it doesn’t sell to expectations, they assume there is no market for it and kill it. BMW, ever consider that you designed a $50k electric car that only seats 4, has inconvenient suicide doors, and has a tiny trunk? Perhaps you should look at other more successful alt-energy cars to see how to do it properly.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The i8 is pretty well-regarded. As a niche-niche car, it performs quite well, looks great (to me), and is a reasonable value for what you get.

    The i3 BEV is a decent car with some shortcomings:
    1. It’s too small inside.
    2. Rear pocket doors are not consumer-friendly.
    3. Range (through the 2016 models) is too short. 2017 is much better.
    4. Price – you pay for “BMW-grade” stuff, i.e. carbon fiber materials. This car isn’t 50% better than a Leaf.
    5. Looks are controversial at best. Putting the double kidney on a homely car doesn’t make it a BMW.

    The i3 is definitely a contender in the EV market. The REX option is somewhat improved for 2017, but a regular series hybrid (Volt) or parallel hybrid (Malibu) does this function much better, without the drama of insufficient power or tiny gas tank.

    BMW is heavily discounting the i3, and you can still buy *new* 2014 models. But it’s interesting to note that there is only a 17-day supply of i3s in the US. That’s remarkable.

    • 0 avatar
      orenwolf

      This is more or less my thoughts as well. The looks seriously detract from the car (this is true of the Bolt for me, as well), but on top of that, you’re paying a bit of a premium for what (for the 6’1″ me_ really does feel like a posh penalty box.

      I’m hoping the Model 3 will not share these issues, given it’s more traditional sedan design. We’ll see.

  • avatar
    notwhoithink

    Honestly, the biggest issue with the i3 is that there’s almost no overlap between the typical EV buyer and the typical BMW owner. On the one hand you have environmentalists and on the other you have people looking to buy the “ultimate driving machine”.

    Then on top of that you’re alienating potential BMW buyers who might consider the an EV but are turned off by the i3’s spacey design. If it looked like a 2-series or 3-series then they would probably sell a lot more of them, but obviously the 2/3 series platforms weren’t designed for EV use. I think that their new wave of hybrids are definitely on the right tack, though. And they did a nice job with the i8, giving something more performance-oriented (though not quite a supercar).

    If their next-gen i-Series cars look a lot more like a typical sedan/coupe then they’ll see more BMW-like sales numbers.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      The typical BMW is not looking for the “ultimate driving machine.”

      The typical BMW owner is looking for the “look at me I own [lease] a German ‘luxury’ car see how successful I appear to be machine.” There is a lot of overlap there with the environmentalists- many environmentalists care a lot about image (look how successful the 2nd gen Prius became with the Hollywood type…)

      The problem is BMW compromised too much on usability and made it too out there in terms of design while Tesla rolled around with a more mainstream styled and more usable car that said “look at me I’m saving the environment” while still having an aspirationally obtainable price tag for the masses.

      • 0 avatar
        la834

        More importantly, the Model S offered faster acceleration than some Ferraris, comfortable seating for five, a huge trunk, another trunk up front, great steering, surefooted handling and a smooth ride courtesy of a low center of gravity, optional AWD, and state-of-the-art tech features. It’s also better for the environment, but there are a dozen other compelling reasons to buy one.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      Not sure where you’re reporting from, but here in the Bay Area, I think it’s safe to say that 80% of the people that were driving E38 and E39 BMWs during the first dot-com boom are driving a Tesla Model S now. It’s very much the same demographic. People generally think of it as a sports car because of the startling acceleration, even though it’s in the dreadnought weight class.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    Perhaps they didn’t sell many because it’s horribly ugly and has minimal range. If you are going to go that route lease a Leaf.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    There’s an i3 near where I live – at least near enough that I’ve seen the car several times. It’s rare enough that I still do a double-take every time I see it.

    I, for one, would love to have an EV. With my 15 minute commute, burning up gas at 25 to 45mph speeds (mostly 25!) is a waste. My Mini gets decent city mileage, but still…

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Try a used Leaf first. Make sure it still has “12 bars” of capacity, which usually means it has less than 25k miles on it. 2013s and later have better batteries than the 11-12 model.

      They’re readily available for under $10k, and then you’ll want a Level 2 charger for a few hundred bucks. Dealers are eager to sell them.

      The torque, low operating cost, near zero maintenance, and quiet ride are addictive. I really liked my 12 Leaf, but winter was tough on its battery.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    The i3 is very popular in Norway for obvious reasons. It looks ridiculous from every angle, especially if you drive behind it with its thin bicycle wheels.

    But…the interior is GORGEOUS! There’s a version with light birch wood, bright seats and a very airy cabin. Great place to be in if you’re stuck in traffic.

    Just like Tesla markets their cars more like coocalicoo crazy sports cars rather than electric alternatives to a Panamera, BMW might be able to focus on pleasant commuting rather than the lofty eco-stuff.

  • avatar
    PushrodPat

    The moment I saw it at the Frankfurt Auto Show I knew it would be a flop….$50k for what might be the ugliest car of all time that doesn’t have enough range to get me to work…no thanks. A co-worker had one for about 6 months before he went and got a Tesla.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    The mistake BMW made was assuming that an electric car needed to look different to their other cars. Actually people don’t want a car from BMW that looks a bit odd. They want a car that’s just like the others but with an electric power train.

    The I3 is a perfect example. Do people want an I3 or a version of the Mini that can do the same things?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That depends. The Eco crowd wants to look different, which is one reason the Prius has been so successful.

      I don’t mind a different-looking car, but I’m not part of the Eco crowd. My Leaf looked enough like a Versa that most people didn’t notice it. But I despise those science project graphics that say “ELECTRIC VEHICLE” and the like.

  • avatar
    bultaco

    The i3 sells poorly because it looks ridiculous. It makes the Prius look like a Lamborghini. There’s absolutely zero about it that’s in any way aspirational. If the i3 was redesigned with more conventional proportions, but still distinct from other BMWs (like the Prius is somewhat conventional, but different from all other Toyota models) it would sell much better, methinks. Modern BMW customers (with the possible exception of M car buyers) buy them mostly for status and could care less how they handle and accelerate. Since the dorky-looking i3 completely lacks BMW status value, nobody buys it. I’m surprised that BMW misjudged the US market so dramatically.

  • avatar
    tedward

    BMW doesn’t have the scale to make mistakes this large, so I applaud their internal division on the issue. We think of them as nearly ubiquitous, but we are talking about one of the smallest (known western world player) car companies on the planet here. They probably shouldn’t be in such a big hurry. Let gm, vw and Toyota prove the segment has legs.

  • avatar
    wolfinator

    I live in the PNW, and see tons of EVs. Teslas, Leafs, even that Mitsubishi thingie. And yes, i3s.

    The i3 stands out in my mind as the only new car I have seen abandoned by the side of a highway in years.

    Is the range that abysmal, or are BMW buyers really total knuckleheads?

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “tons of EVs”

      That could denote one Model S so you don’t need the second “s”.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      The range is pretty bad on the i3. I know they quote 82 miles or something like that, but I got 58 miles over the few days I had it. I used it like my other car, took kids to school, errands, used the AC, etc.

      I’ve heard BMW is doubling the range for the 2017 model. That should be enough for some to take the plunge. The sub 100 mile ev’s are a tough sell.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        Even the range extended model (at $45,000) only goes another 50 miles on gas, and its performance can be severely limited (due to a smaller reserve battery capacity).

        A Volt is a more sensible PHEV unless your commute just exceeds the Volt’s 40-50 mile EV range. The Volt also has many more options for less money.

        But, the i3’s interior is certainly stylish, but maybe not everyone’s cup of tea.

        If you *must* have an EV, and you *must* have a Beemer, enjoy.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    The i3 has a few issues.

    1. It looks like a moon buggy.

    2. It’s pricey for an urban runabout, and while BMW is now advertising panicky lease deals, I haven’t met a dealer who will honor them.

    3. The optional range extender can’t maintain full-power long-range operation like a Chevy Volt’s can. It’s really just a psychological band-aid for range anxiety, more akin to a limp-home mode.

    4. The i3 could have been good for ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber, if BMW had made it with four conventional doors…but they didn’t…so it’s not eligible.

    5. The biggest issue is that a BMW should be great to drive, and the i3 is not. A short, slab-sided vehicle on moped-width tires, it’s darty and unpredictable in crosswinds or road grooves, and the steering doesn’t compensate for that, offering all the precision and feedback of a 1986 Pole Position arcade game. And the high-regen, one-pedal driving setup sucks just as much in an i3 as it does in Disneyland’s Autopia buggies.

    With its ultra-tech construction and lovely interior (in all but base trim), the i3 makes a hell of a show car. But in the real world, it’s more expensive, less attractive, less practical and worse to drive than its competitors. That’s a hard sell.

    I want one anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Varezhka

      Yup, with tall sides and short wheelbase on narrow wheels and not yet fully baked electronics doing most of the “driving”, the i3 feels more like a futuristic Smart ForTwo. The range is limited, but it’s not a car you’d really want to use for anything more than a short in-city driving anyways. A little too expensive for it’s utility. Love the interior, though.

      Most of the i3 I see nowadays are for the ReachNow car-sharing service, which I would say is the best current application for the car. (Being priced similarly to car2go doesn’t hurt either)

      As for the i8, the car is about as rare as the Cadillac ELR, probably because anyone who can afford the car have already bought Tesla Model S.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Tiny turning radius too.

        Everything it does well, it does in urban and small town environments.

        I don’t see this car as competing with the typical American style freeway flyers used for long distance vacations.

        I see this car going across town and shopping and the park. All things it would do very well.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      “And the high-regen, one-pedal driving setup sucks just as much in an i3 as it does in Disneyland’s Autopia buggies.”

      Yes, I tried that in my Volt for some time (driving in “L” is possible at all speeds), but it became a bit tiring not to be able to remove one’s foot from the gas, and it didn’t give me any more range than braking lightly to avoid the friction stoppers, and coasting where appropriate. I was also a bit worried that minor twitches on the throttle would be front and back-loading the gearbox all the time, leading to gear/bearing wear.

  • avatar
    caretnik

    I guess I’m the only owner of i3 here :) Leased it about a month ago, got a pretty sweet deal thanks to BMW money that went into cap reduction and pretty high residual on 2-year lease. Actually these cars were getting pretty scarce, most of dealerships around Boston have one or two left, until 2017 arrive.

    Some random points:

    1) Car makes sense when you have short commute. I have moved close to the office, would not want to drive my other BMW 1.5 miles each way every day.

    2) It is surprisingly roomy inside, and I actually like their cloth interior

    3) It is nice to drive. Light, good acceleration, low center of gravity, good enough steering.

    4) No, it is not Tesla. But for short trip, I like a little bugger more than huge, heavy battery-powered computer. And it also means there are actual controls, not just the touch screen.

    5) Wish it had an “autopilot”. In a traffic jam, it is gold.

  • avatar
    czarmar

    Another i3 driver here. The biggest reason that the i3 has not been a commercial success is the looks – the car is ugly, odd proportions, etc. If the car came in similar packaging as the X3, I think it would have been a greater success.
    It was overpriced and overengineered. A mainstream buyer probably isn’t willing to be a Guinea pig for CFRP construction which added a lot of cost, reduced repairability. The oddball tire size doesn’t really help highway aerodynamics when the rest of the car isn’t aero. The short wheelbase and high seating position creates a lot of pitching over bumps. It really is a small car, with small room, kind of the antithesis to the Honda Fit. Small trunk, laughable frunk. Lack of commonly available BMW options like pano moonroof, power memory seats, modern features like lane centering and radar based ACC.
    However… There’s a lot of good too. I love one pedal driving, and prefer the strong regen. The high seating position offers great visibility. While the rear access is tough, the seating room once back there isn’t quite as bad as you’d expect. The punchy torque and silence is addictive. It is incredibly maneuverable and parkable as a small car. For my needs, the range has been perfectly adequate. I was drawn in by the incredibly low lease rates, but after driving this EV for the last 1.5 years, I doubt I will ever be intrigued by another ICE car.


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