September 23, 2021

BMW lags behind in the electric vehicles race

Eight years ago BMW was one of the first major automakers to sell a battery-powered car. But lately they’ve fallen behind developments. Can they catch up?

BMW’s new flagship 14 electric vehicle poised outside a modern office building.

BMW i4 electric car won’t launch in Australia until next year.

A decade ago BMW pioneered battery-powered cars with the i3.

The i3’s lightweight-fibre body and aluminium chassis was an engineering feat that won many design awards around the world.

But since then, the German automaker has slipped in the global race to develop the next generation of electric vehicles.

Unlike its worldwide competitors, the German company has not specified a timeline for the phase-out of internal combustion engines and petrol-powered vehicles, which has angered investors. BMW claims that their upcoming model, the electric i4 sedan, will disprove doubters.

They haven’t yet begun marketing a whole range of vehicles built from the ground up to run on batteries. BMW has criticised proposals by the European Union to outlaw gasoline and diesel engines by 2035 while other corporations are investing heavily in an electric future.

Insufficient sustainability initiatives

BMW’s lack of commitment to long-term climate change measures explains why investors have soured on the company’s stock, which has fallen despite the business reporting a strong quarterly net profit of $7.7 billion. BMW’s stock has dropped 18% in the last four months.

In Munich, BMW has a dedicated research lab where they’re developing their own battery technology. They’re also developing a set of specialised components that will serve as the foundation for a family of electric automobiles starting in 2025.

But it may be too little too late. A new car takes several years to design, create a supplier network and equip a plant to construct. Automobile executives must make multibillion-dollar bets based on their best guesses about what technology will be available and what automobile purchasers will desire in four or five year’s time.

Nobody knows what kinds of electric vehicles will become popular as the market spreads beyond early adopters, who are typically wealthy and ecologically conscientious.

Will they be interested in automotive designs that signify a departure from the past? Will they choose electric vehicles that look and operate similarly to the petrol or diesel vehicles they’re accustomed to?

Optimising for battery power

Tesla, which is developing the world’s most advanced high-volume electric vehicle production plant in Berlin, now dominates the market. In Western Europe, Tesla’s Model 3 is the best-selling electric car. Electric vehicles accounted for 17% of all new vehicle sales in the first half of the year, with one million plug-in vehicles in all.

BMW’s new electric i4, which is a high-performance battery-powered sedan with a long-range, boasts astonishing acceleration. But it shares components with BMW petrol-powered cars, a trait that has drawn criticism.

Analysts doubt that such conversions will be able to compete with cars that are built from the ground up to be electric and can fully leverage the benefits of battery power. Converting a conventional vehicle to an electric vehicle is always a compromise.

BMW wants to start producing vehicles on a platform optimised for battery power in 2025. A platform of components that can be shared by multiple models.

Many analysts anticipate that 2025 will be the year that electric vehicles become less expensive to buy than petrol models, and sales will soar.

Rapid uptake of electric cars

But the market has moved faster than forecasts. During the pandemic, electric vehicle sales in Europe skyrocketed.

The Biden administration in the United States handed electric vehicles a boost this month when they announced a plan to increase electric vehicle sales to 50% of new automobiles by 2030.

Even in Australia, government policy is adapting to market shifts with rebates and incentives to promote more electric vehicle sales.

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