BMW CEO Apologizes For Telling The Truth About EVs

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
bmw ceo apologizes for telling the truth about evs

On April 18th, BMW CEO Jim O’Donnell met in New York with reporters, amongst them TTAC’s Jack Baruth. At the meeting, O’Donnell opined that the U.S. government should end the $7,500 tax credit for EVs. “I believe in a free economy. I think we should abolish all tax credits,” O’Donnell said, noting that it was his personal opinion.

O’Donnell also said that “from a practicality point of view, EVs won’t work for most people. For at least 90 percent and maybe more of the population, an EV won’t work at the current battery range.” What else is new? A 10 percent market share for EVs usually is regarded as widely optimistic. And we all know that German automakers are not particularly excited about electrification. The quote wasn’t newsworthy, and did not rate a mention in Jack’s report about the meeting.

Interestingly, the meeting had been the kick-off for BMW’s ActiveE EV lease program. If a CEO says that a new product is not all things to all people, he usually gets praises for being candid. This apparently does not apply in the world of faith-based motorization.

The Detroit News picked up the quote. From the DetN, a firestorm raged through the plug-in blogosphere. O’Donnell’s remarks were treated as anti-electric racism. Autobloggreen demanded an apology. AllCarsElectric rapped O’Donnell for forgetting “to not say horrible things about your product.” Treehugger said the 90 percent remark was “a pretty oversimplified statement, to say the least.” The rest of the firestorm in the blogosphere … was the usual copypasting.

Two days ago, O’Donnell committed a cardinal sin in the corporate propaganda business. He violated the rule that says “if you stepped into the shit, don’t parade around the house.” The incident had been long forgotten, and filed away in the cabinet of memorable EV quotes. Like Volkwagen’s Christian Klinger’s “the electric car is not a request from the customer, the electric car is a request from the government.” Or the much more diplomatic “Maybe 90% wouldn’t choose [an EV] as a first vehicle, but they may choose it as a second vehicle,” by Chevy Volt spokesman Rob Peterson.

Instead of letting it go and rot in the cabinet of EV quotes, O’Donnell issued an apology. Since when does a BMW CEO apologize? He sure did. In a statement, O’Donnell said:

“On April 18th, I had a conversation reported in the Detroit News that has caused a great deal of concern over the past week. I realize I could have been clearer in my comments and I sincerely apologize if I have offended the strong network of electric vehicle advocates whose support has been deeply meaningful to us at BMW.”

“We also understand that we are a country of diverse living and driving conditions and that electric vehicles may not be the natural choice for all drivers, many of whom will want to choose other advanced technology vehicles. “

“I am sorry for the confusion and concern I have caused. While I clearly should have chosen my words more carefully, rest assured, BMW is fully behind electric vehicles and all of the ongoing innovation in this area. We live in a diverse world and our company is working very hard on meeting the needs of our wide range of customers all over the world.”

Now THAT created a firestorm. The DetN basks in the glory of feeding BMW crow, which their CEO ate. From Fiskerkarmablog to Electriccarnews, all are happy to hear that O’Donnell apologized for saying the truth. We live in a strange world where you have to say that you are sorry that you did not lie.

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  • Bodegabob Bodegabob on May 02, 2011

    Ooooh, one of these things! I love these things. If your EV has an effective all-weather range of 70 miles or so you had better not have a commute longer than 10 miles. There are contingencies to every commute. Say you forget your laptop half way to work and need to turn around to get it. Say that you find out you need to make a special trip to the doctor's office when you find out your kid was sent there from school. You can still make an EV work in these cases, but you'd better not be using it anywhere close to its capabilities just for steady-state commuting duty. So I think an EV remains a very nice lifestyle statement for people who like to buy products that make them feel good about themselves and superior to others.

    • See 2 previous
    • Luke42 Luke42 on May 02, 2011

      @Ubermensch It depends on the context. I helped a family member purchase, finance, and register an F-150 4x4, because it's the right tool for the job. Her work takes her to remote parts of the US and she travels thousands of miles per year over unimproved roads in 4 wheel drive. Considering the amount of survival gear and work-tools that she takes with her, it is simply the correct tool for the job. I'm proud Prius driver, and a proud co-owner of this F-150. A shiny hummer in the mall parking lot with no mud on it is another story entirely. Also, the spotless F-150 Office Worker Editions that park in the parking deck near my office are just silly. OTOH, some of my co-workers live on farms and drive their farm truck in to the office. That's not quite as silly, especially since a lot of them have to plow their own driveways on their way to work, and it's really easy to see the difference. The farm trucks have trailer hitches, plow attachments, dents, and mud on them. The spotless pickup truck that lives in suburbia really stands out; it's a machine that isn't being used for its intended purpose and is, by definition, a waste. The money, the fuel, and a perfectly good machine are all things that should be put to work doing something useful. (I guess I shouldn't complain too much, because the F-150 I co-own was one of those Office Worker Editions with almost a hundred thousand easy miles on it. The owner use it to commute to a while collar job and to do some occasional light towing. Compared to the kind of use it's getting from the off-road desert work, that thing was brand new when we bought it, and it cost a lot less than a new truck.) The Right Tool for the Right Job. Both sides of that statement are important -- and the second part is the hard part.

  • Mike Kelley Mike Kelley on May 02, 2011

    So-called "green" power is much more subsidized than conventional electricity:

    • Luke42 Luke42 on May 02, 2011

      That's related to the fact that efficiency is the best alternative fuel, at least on the first pass. Once those ducks are in a row, then you can evaluate PV or wind. Or not, I guess, if you don't care about the externalities incurred by using fossile fuels. But, even then, efficiency will save you money. (Unless you start keeping score with your buddies and you like to win, in which case it may not save you money.) The problem is convincing people to care about insulation, efficient household appliances, and efficient transportation.

  • Theflyersfan UX Hybrid, NX, NX Hybrid, NX Plug-In Hybrid EV, RZ, RX, RX Hybrid, RX 500h, GX, LX, and now the TX. (source: the bloated section of the Lexus SUV site) It's looking like the Taco Bell menu over there - the same dozen ingredients mixed around to make a lineup. I'm waiting for something like the WX to compete with the Chevy Trax and maybe the LXXXL to compete with the Hummer EV and maybe a four row crossover in 2025 and a lower-cased line like the rx or nx to compete with the German CUV-"coupes" and their slashed tops and cargo areas. C'mon Lexus, there are more micro-niches to be filled! Gather your boardroom committees together and come up with another plan! And careless parent alert: shouldn't that kid be in a booster seat? I mean in my age, we sat in the way back of station wagons on the flat floor and bounced around with every curve, but these days you gotta deck your kid out in 50 pounds of pads and bubble wrap before they leave the driveway, so get that child seat in the way back right now!
  • 28-Cars-Later Nice minivan, just add the sliding doors and quit living in denial.
  • Zerofoo You will own nothing....
  • MaintenanceCosts "We’d imagine reliability on the hybrid won't be quite so bulletproof as the unaided V6."Why? Toyota hybrid powertrains are typically indestructible.
  • JMII Too late Dodge. After 20 years of Dakota use I went and got a Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited. Great vehicle for 4k miles so far, 700 miles of towing while getting 18 MPG whereas the same boat behind the Dakota could only manage 11. I do welcome more entries in this market. I managed with my Quad Cabs 5 foot bed for decades so the SC's 4 foot bed (same as the Mav and I assume this RAM) is fine, I am not a contractor and don't haul plywood on a daily basis.