Two Tribes: Weak I3 Sales Have BMW Execs Battling Over Company's EV Future

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Caretnik Caretnik on Sep 20, 2016

    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.

  • Czarmar Czarmar on Sep 21, 2016

    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.

  • Canam23 I believe the Chinese are entirely capable of building good cars, BYD has shown that they are very forward thinking and their battery technology is very good, BUT, I won't buy one because I don't believe in close to slave labor conditions, their animosity to the west, the lack of safety conditions for their workers and also the tremendous amount of pollution their factories produce. It's not an equal playing field and when I buy a car I want it made with as little pollution as possible in decent working conditions and paying a livable wage. I find it curious that people are taking swipes at the UAW in this thread because you can clearly see what horrific labor conditions exist in China, no union to protect them. I also don't own an iphone, I prefer my phones made where there aren't nets around to catch possible suicide jumpers. I am currently living in France, Citroen makes their top model in China, but you see very few. BYD has yet to make an impression here and the French government has recently imposed huge tariffs on Chinese autos. Currently the ones I see the most are the new MG's, mostly electric cars that remind me of early Korean cars, but they are progressing. In fact, the French buy very little Chinese goods, they are very protective of their industries.
  • Jerry Haan I have these same lights, and the light output, color, and coverage is amazing!Be aware, these lights interfere with AM and FM radio reception with the stereoreceiver I have in my garage. When the lights are on, I all the AM stations havelots of static, and there are only a couple of FM stations that are clear. When Iturn the lights off, all the radio stations work fine. I have tried magnetic cores on the power cords of the lights, that did not makeany change. The next thing I am going to try is mounting an antenna in my atticto get them away from the lights. I contacted the company for support, they never responded.
  • Lou_BC Are Hot Wheels cars made in China?
  • DS No for 2 reasons. 1-Every new car pipelines data back to the manufacturer; I don't like it with domestic, Japanese and Euro companies and won't put up with it going to Chinese companies that are part financed by their government. 2-People have already mentioned Vinfast, but there's also the case of Hyundai. Their cars were absolutely miserable for years before they learned enough about the US market
  • Theflyersfan Well, if you're on a Samsung phone, (noticing all of the shipping boxes are half Vietnamese), you're using a Vietnam-built phone. Apple? Most of ours in the warehouse say China, but they are trying to spread out to other countries because putting all eggs in the Chinese basket right now is not wise. I'm asking Apple users here (the point of above) - if you're OK using an expensive iPhone, where is your Made in China line in the sand? Can't stress this enough - not being confrontational. I am curious, that's all. Is it because Apple is California-based that manufacturing location doesn't matter, vs a company in a Beijing skyscraper? We have all weekend to hopefully have a civil discussion about how much is too much when it comes to supporting companies being HQ-ed in adversarial countries. I, for one, can't pull the trigger on a Chinese car. All kinds of reasons - political, human rights, war mongering and land grabbing - my morality is ruling my decisions with them.