06 Oct 2016 | Sören Amelang

Early e-car starter BMW plans new mobility sprint


BMW is one of the world’s largest luxury car manufacturers. The Bavarian company is mainly known for its high-horsepower performance vehicles, but it is also a pioneer in e-mobility and sustainability among German carmakers. After a temporary lull, the company now plans a new mobility push. This factsheet provides a quick overview of the company and its plans.

BMW key figures 2015

Sales: 92.2 billion euros (+15%)

Net profit: 6.4 billion euros (+10%)

Vehicle deliveries: 2,247,485 (+6%)

Employees (mid 2016): 123,597 (+3%)

Fleet emission: 127 g CO2/km

Market capitalisation in early October 2016: 50 billion euros

[Sources: Quarterly Report June 2016, BMW Group key figures, Annual Report 2015]

The BMW Group is headquartered in Munich and focuses on the premium car market with its BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars brands. The 100-year-old carmaker has grown strongly recently, almost doubling revenues in the last ten years, and operated 31 production locations in 14 countries in 2015.

Like its peers VW and Daimler, BMW is a publicly listed company. It is controlled by the Quandts, one of Germany’s wealthiest industrial families (including Susanne Klatten), who own almost 47 percent of its shares. BMW is headed by CEO Harald Krüger.

Early Starter

BMW is often seen as a pioneer among German carmakers when it comes to sustainable mobility. In 2016, BMW was again named the world's most sustainable automotive company by the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes. It is the only auto manufacturer to feature in the index every year since 1999. In addition, BMW says it became the first company in the automotive industry to appoint an environmental officer in 1973.

Whereas other German automakers’ e-cars are models originally developed to house an internal combustion engine, BMW launched the electric i-subbrand, which started from scratch to develop an entirely new electric model. The i3 went on sale in late 2013 featuring novel lightweight carbon-fibre technologies. It is assembled at BMW’s Leipzig plant, which operates its own wind turbines to power production.

Cumulative global sales of the i3 reached 50,000 in 2016, and it stands third in the worldwide ranking of electric cars. But according to industry experts, i3 sales remain well below BMW’s hopes, dampening the auto manufacturer’s electric ambitions.

BMW was also an early starter with its car sharing service DriveNow, a joint venture with car rental company Sixt, which went into operation in 2011. The service says it is the market leader in Germany, with 500,000 customers and a market share of 40 percent. It operates more than 4,000 vehicles in five German cities as well as Brussels, Copenhagen, London, Stockholm and Vienna. 20 percent of the fleet is electrically powered, using the i3. “Over three million kilometres have already been driven electrically with the service to date. In Germany alone, around 150,000 customers have taken their first drive in an electric car with DriveNow,” the company said in June 2016. According to scientific research supported by the company, every DriveNow vehicle has replaced “at least three private vehicles, which means that the number of private cars in German DriveNow cities has already been reduced by 5,700.” BMW i also offers other digital mobility services such as parking app ParkNow.


New strategy criticised as too hesitant

In March 2016, BMW announced a major strategic overhaul, dubbed Number One > Next, to set out “the framework to shape change in the automobile sector”. BMW said it saw “the changes sweeping across the world of mobility through digitalisation as an excellent opportunity to make mobile life simpler, safer and more convenient.” BMW said it wanted to put the technological focus on advancing electric mobility and automated driving, while continuing to develop hydrogen fuel-cell technology: “The company believes that a variety of drivetrain systems will exist alongside each other in the future.”

BMW said it prepared for fundamental changes in mobility, but added the industry’s capital-intensive investment cycles and long car life spans meant the “changes will not occur abruptly. The BMW Group expects a transformation that will steadily gather pace, but nevertheless stretch over a long period and develop diversely from one region to the next.” BMW said the combustion engine would continue to play a major role “for many years to come.”

Many media commentators called BMW’s new strategy reluctant, noting that CEO Krüger said the changes were an “evolution” rather than a revolution, and that the company seemed poised to leave its electric i-Series, which also includes the plug-in hybrid sportscar i8, largely unchanged for years to come.

At BMW’s annual general meeting in May 2016, shareholders also criticised the company was not innovative enough, and had fallen behind Tesla in e-mobility.

According to a Reuters report, BMW was torn about whether to accelerate e-car development after its expensive early i3 investment.

BMW CEO Krüger announced in late September that the company would launch the first electric Mini car in 2019, followed by an electric version of the BMW SUV X3. In the meantime, VW and Mercedes-Benz have accelerated their own electric car programs (See separate factsheets Dieselgate forces VW to embrace green mobility and Reluctant Daimler plans “radical” push into new mobility world). “Competitors are now in phase one on their electric strategy, while we’re entering phase two,” Krüger told Bloomberg.

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