BMW Takes Its EVs-from-China Plan Off the Burner

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
bmw takes its evs from china plan off the burner

Unlike another German automaker, BMW isn’t jumping into “electromobility” (gag) with both feet. There’s an element of restraint in the automaker’s electrification plans, unlike Volkswagen’s bid to put 1 billion EVs on the moon by next week. Thanks to this cautious blend of profit-mindedness and environmental consideration, we now have high-margin vehicles positioned above the X7 SUV. (Bimmer needs the dough for green things.)

But electric BMW vehicles are already here, and more are on the way. Normal-looking ones, too, like the iX3 crossover — a battery-electric version of the popular X3, due to start rolling out of China next year. At least, Bimmer was due to begin exporting it, until the automaker took the needle off the record.

According to a report in Reuters, the U.S.-China trade dispute has placed the company’s plans for a Chinese EV export hub in limbo.

“We have no basis for taking a decision at the moment. Whether this is financially viable and whether it makes sense needs to be evaluated,” said CEO Harald Krueger on the sidelines of the Geneva Motor Show.

Despite having plants in the U.S. and Europe, the financial benefits of building low- or no-margin EVs in China propelled that locale to the top of BMW’s list. The automaker bought a majority stake in its Chinese joint venture partner last year to pave the way for iX3 exports to foreign markets. The politics of trade intervened.

Last year, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products, broken down as 25 percent on $50 billion in goods and 10 percent on the remainder. In the ongoing trade talks between the two nations, the U.S. has threatened to bump up the tariffs on that $200 billion bundle to 25 percent. An electric vehicle headed to the U.S. from that market would either be priced out of its class, or sold at a loss.

As such, BMW is holding its horses, waiting to see if China and the U.S. reach a mutually beneficial deal.

Another electric BMW product’s future is also looking hazy — that of the Mini EV. The automaker has a deal with China’s Great Wall Motors to build the thing, but that might not happen, either.

“That’s probably the most strategic question we discussed over the past two or three years,” said Peter Schwarzenbauer, BMW’s board member responsible for Mini. “With all the uncertainty around tariffs. I wouldn’t be able to give you a good answer of what will happen. The only option is to put yourself in a situation where you can react.”

China looks favorably on locally produced EVs, but BMW isn’t sure whether it’s keen on exporting Minis from that site. If conditions prove less than ideal in The People’s Republic, Schwarzenbauer said, it still has its UK and Netherlands assembly sites to fall back on.

[Image: BMW]

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4 of 9 comments
  • Asdf Asdf on Mar 09, 2019

    It is not a good idea to export Chinese-made cars. Who would want to buy cars made in a country with an aversion to making quality products, and who would trust an automaker that tries to sell such cars? BMW dodged a bullet here, just like Ford did when the plan to sell the Chinese-made Focus in the US was dropped.

    • Jatz Jatz on Mar 09, 2019

      I'm sure the employee hours required of a Western partner in a Chinese JV to ride herd on the Chinese tendency for chabuduo are onerous and prohibitive for low-margin vehicles. But I see no reason why that would prevent profitable exporting to the West of Chinese made luxury or virtue signaling cars. The QA would be merely another expensive component to be justified by the sale price. As long as China has the cheapest trainable labor and most corrupt regulatory environment things should be sweet until the Western companies have given up all their IP to the Borg.

  • Amca Amca on Mar 10, 2019

    Wait, that first picture isn't a BMW. It's that made in China Buick CUV thing. I can tell. The shape and the lines are identical.

    • Jatz Jatz on Mar 10, 2019

      No, look especially at the cut line for the hatch in the Envision's D-pillar; it's missing on the BMW. Also, BMW tail light shape is more complex.

  • Cprescott I remember when Fords were affordable.
  • Cprescott As a once very LOYAL FORD buyer, I had to replace my 22 year old Ford (bought new in 1997) once it finally started to have problems at 180k miles. I would have gladly purchased something like this from Ford but they abandoned me as a car buyer. Oddly, Hyundai still builds cars in a variety of flavors so I became a customer of theirs and am very happy. Likely will consider another once this one gets up in mileage.
  • SCE to AUX A friend once struck a mounted tire that was laying flat in the middle of her lane on the PA Turnpike. She was in a low late-90s Grand Prix, and the impact destroyed the facia, core support, radiators, oil pan, transmission, subframe, and suspension. They fixed it all.
  • Dukeisduke Lol, it's not exactly a Chevrolet SS with Holden badging.
  • Dukeisduke Years ago, I was driving southbound along North Central Expressway (south of Mockingbird Lane, for locals), and watched a tire and wheel fall out of the bed of a pickup (no tailgate), bounce along, then centerpunch the front end of a Honda Accord. It wasn't pretty.