Sales Slow Despite Massive Advertising Campaign.
Safety Failure Hasn’t Helped Either.
Despite a massive and expensive advertising campaign, not to mention the reported $2 billion cost of developing it, BMW’s new little i3 electric car is not exactly storming up the sales charts.
Experts say this is because BMW is nervous about the new technology involved in the i3, and is deliberately keeping production slow until it is confident it won’t be embarrassed by a recall induced by any failures.
News the i3 flunked a European safety test can’t have helped either. In a test in November the i3 performed poorly in pedestrian protection, and safety assistance systems, scoring four out of a possible five stars overall. Even cheap new models in Europe now regularly score five out of five in the EuroNCAP tests.
Usually, when a manufacturer has invested huge sums in a ground-breaking new vehicle, PR flacks are bragging from day one about how buyers are storming dealerships and paying over the odds to get behind the wheel of the new motor. Big launch stocks are built up to satisfy the advertising campaign’s initial crop of wannabe owners.
But not the i3, even though you would expect so-called early adopters to be excitedly opening their wallets. Because BMW is still concerned about getting this ground-breaking vehicle right – it is built from carbon fibre as well as being battery powered – production at the Leipzig factory and therefore sales have only amounted to a trickle so far.
According to British newsletter Automotive Industry Data (AID), just over 400 new BMW i3s were sold in all of Western Europe in November.
“That’s a mere fraction of the earlier consensus expectations of some dedicated electric car market observers,” said AID editor Peter Schmidt.
Schmidt said total registrations by the end of November had reached 801 i3s, but this was mainly accounted for by press fleet vehicles and dealer demonstrators. Schmidt said only 121 i3s were sold in Germany in November after sales started on the 16th.
“BMW’s fast moving marketing dynamo raised expectations of a headline-generating big November splurge in i3 registrations (sales). Not so. By contrast, Tesla’s (Model S) debut on Europe’s electro car scene was an altogether different affair and was fully in keeping with the familiar circus generally associated with the market debut of a genuinely new product. I expected about 2,000 i3s would be ready for the big bang, but we got a damp squib” Schmidt said.
“Early days perhaps, but markedly lower than expected registrations (sales) this November suggest that BMW’s all-electric i3 has not hit the ground running,” Schmidt said.
BMW has said that it has 10,000 orders for the i3, but hasn’t said whether this is from genuine customers or dealers. BMW said full production capacity will be reached in March, but didn’t say what that was.
A BMW spokesperson in the U.K. had this to say.
“Due to its entirely new architecture and technology, production of the BMW i3 was always planned in low numbers initially, increasing over the course of 2014. Both production and sales are going extremely well. The 10,000 global orders already received show the enormous appeal of this car. U.K. customers ordering cars now can expect delivery in the second half of next year. The U.S. launch is also on track.”
Because of fears over range anxiety, BMW added a range-extender option to its i3 – that’s a small gasoline motor which charges the battery when it runs out of juice. The most notable feature of the i3 is not its battery, but the use of carbon fibre to cut huge amounts of weight without sacrificing strength. The technique is very expensive, but a report from German investment bank HSBC Trinkhaus and Burkhardt said the i3 and the i8 supercar car plug-in hybrid planned for next year gives BMW a four to five year competitive advantage over its German peers. BMW has created a new “i” brand for alternative-power vehicles, and has patents for a possible 10 vehicles.
All this comes at a price, with some analysts saying the i3 will lose BMW up to $270 million a year for five years. BMW says it will make money from day one.
BMW says its i3 was built from the ground up to be electric, so priority one was to make it much lighter. BMW has developed its own carbon fibre reinforced plastic for the bodywork and it has an aluminium chassis, both lighter and stronger than traditional steels. The car’s lithium ion batteries are integrated under the passenger floor for even weight distribution and lower centre of gravity, allowing BMW to claim go-cart like road holding agility.
The i3 is also, claims BMW, the world’s first fully networked electrically-powered car. The i3’s satellite navigation is programmed to figure out if the declared destination is within the car’s range, and will switch power to “economy” to make sure the car makes it. Range-anxiety will be eliminated if you opt for the auxiliary engine. This little two-cylinder petrol engine sits alongside the electric motor over the rear wheels and provides electricity when the battery runs out and raises the range to more than 200 miles. Without the auxiliary motor, range is claimed to be between 81 and 125 miles.