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BMW ready for another electric car

Electric dreams: BMW says more EVs and plug-in hybrids will follow its i3 and i8 pioneers

i-cars “successful” sellers but BMW wants government support for lagging Australia

BMW logo24 Apr 2015

By NEIL DOWLING

FEDERAL Government inaction to promote low-emission vehicles won’t stop BMW adding more electric vehicles to its Australian range says the German car-maker.

BMW Group Australia head of product and market planning Shawn Ticehurst said BMW could follow up the i3 and i8 with another model “within a few years” but would not confirm it as the rumoured i5 sedan.

“There’s a lot of speculation but nothing has been confirmed,” he said.

“But we would certainly welcome a third electric vehicle. I think the market is ready for another electric car and it would complement the extremes of our i3 city car and i8 performance coupe.”

But he expressed disappointment that the move to zero emission vehicles was not being embraced by the federal government.

“We’ve taken our message to the federal, states and local governments but have found no interest,” he said.

“We’re not asking for expensive infrastructure or subsidies. We’re asking for acceptance of the technology so we can join the rest of the world.

“At the moment, Australia’s position in accepting sustainable vehicles is embarrassing. I think technology has overtaken the government.”

Mr Ticehurst’s views follow comments made this week by Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery who said his company would continue to sell the electric Leaf hatchback despite it being unprofitable and having no assistance from the government.

In an interview with GoAuto, Mr Emery said he was “a little bit frustrated on a number of fronts on various levels of government about their lack of understanding of this business.”

His statement came after federal industry and science minister Ian Macfarlane said electric cars were “an idea, not a solution” and that other options could be better.

That comment, made on April 1, followed Mr Macfarlane opening a fuel-cell station and unveiling Hyundai’s ix35 Fuel-Cell Electric Vehicle at Hyundai Motor Company Australia’s Sydney head office.

Mr Ticehurst said BMW had no official fuel-cell vehicle plans and believed the existing electric vehicle and hybrid models best suited the current infrastructure available in Australia.

While the i8 and i3 have hybrid powertrains and can be charged at home, BMW categorises the pair as range-extended electric vehicles, but Mr Ticehurst said the company will launch its first true plug-in hybrid vehicle, an X5, next year.

“That’s the start of our plug-in hybrid range,” he said.

“We already have the Active Hybrid models in the 3, 5 and 7 Series. The plug-in hybrids are our next step.”

Mr Ticehurst said he was “happy” with the sales of the i3 and i8.

“Buyers are more likely to be intrigued by the technology of the electric vehicle, rather than the sustainability factor,” he said.

“The first batch of i3 buyers traded in BMWs and there was a noticeable section of buyers coming out of the M3 and M5 performance models.

“That shows that the i3 is attracting car enthusiasts and people interested in technology.

“Now that the i3 has been on the market for some months, we’re seeing a trend to different buyers who are looking for a car that has advantages in sustainability.”

Mr Ticehurst said about 75 per cent of i3 buyers opted for the more expensive range-extender model (with an onboard generator to charge the batteries) because they were concerned about the battery range.

“In time, they’ll find they don’t need to buy a range extender model,” he said.

“We plan to survey owners after six months and we think that most will say they didn’t need that model.”

BMW has sold 79 i3 hatchbacks and 13 i8 coupes in Australia to the end of March.

Total electric vehicle – including those with range extenders but not hybrids - sales for 2014 were 1130 units, up from 292 in 2013. In the three months of 2015, 94 were sold.

Globally, BMW sales of i3 and i8 for 2014 was 17,800.

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