Despite its role as an early pioneer in electrification, BMW has struggled to gain real traction in the emerging market, with Tesla siphoning away many of its once-loyal buyers. Now, however, the Bavarian automaker hopes to build momentum in the American market with a growing line-up of plug-in hybrids, as well as its first two long-range battery-electric vehicles.
Delivering up to 300 miles per charge, the new i4 sedan and iX SUV can travel as much as three times further than BMW’s original all-electric model, the i3 city car. The automaker has also taken steps to make it easier to charge up, whether at home or on the road. But skeptics remain, the two models generating plenty of controversy over their design, among other issues.
Set to reach U.S. showrooms later this year, the i4 and iX will join BMW’s expanding line-up of plug-in hybrids. The automaker added PHEV versions of both the X5 crossover and 3-Series sedan late last year – and the response has begun to move the needle. For the first half of this year BMW’s EV sales jumped 8.9% compared to the same, pre-pandemic period in 2019.
With more plug-ins and BEVs coming worldwide, the automaker anticipates even bigger growth in the coming years, according to Shawn Bugbee, the executive vice president of operations for BMW North America.
EV sales expected to grow exponentially
“Our belief is that by 2025 we’ll have 2 million electrified vehicles on the road worldwide,” Bugbee said during a media preview of the iX and i4 in Detroit on Wednesday night. “By 2030,” he added, BMW expects that 50% of its global sales will be made up of plug-based models.
It’s been eight years since the German company entered the electric vehicle market – in the process launching a new sub-brand dubbed BMW i. The all-electric i3 and plug-in i8 were distinctive and generated plenty of buzz, but appealed to marginal niches – even as upstart Tesla started going after more mainstream buyers. Many of them had previously been BMW owners, noted Sam Abuelsamid, principal auto analyst for Guidehouse Insight.
Last year’s launch of the X5 and 3-Series plug-in hybrids has helped BMW get back into the game, but PHEV sales have remained modest in the U.S. The real growth has been on the all-electric side. And that’s where the i4 and iX will prove critical.
There will be multiple versions of each of the battery-electric vehicles. The i4 40, for example, will feature a single, rear motor making 335 horsepower and capable of launching from 0-60 in 5.5 seconds. The i4 M50 will add a second motor up front and boost output to 536 hp – cutting launch times down to 3.7 seconds. Prices will start at $55,400 for the i4 40 eDrive, running to $83,200 for the iX xDrive50. The automaker has confirmed that a third version of the SUV, the iX M60 is in the works and will make around 600 hp.
Plenty of buzz – plenty of controversy
The two new all-electric models have generated plenty of their own buzz, though not all has been positive. They’ve taken plenty of hits for their designs – especially the large and unusual, vertically oriented take on the classic BMW “double-kidney” grille. There’s also the surprising lack of frunks in the two BEVs – the front-mounted trunks competitors like Tesla have designed to fill in the space where a conventional gas or diesel engine would be mounted.
Nonetheless, analyst Abuelsamid is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the two BEVs in a market where electrified vehicles have begun generating real interest this year.
“People who own BMWs and want to go electric will go for these cars,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ll claw back customers who defected to Tesla, but they will retain customers who want to go electric.”
BMW’s approach to electrification has shifted several times – and it will change again, Bugbee told TheDetroitBureau.com in an interview following the Detroit i4 and iX preview.
Early on, it focused on distinctive models – like the little i3 and exotic i8. It then began switched direction, laying out plans that would have made its conventional product lines available with a broad mix of powertrain options, everything from gas and diesel to PHEV and BEV.
That required underlying platforms that could handle all sorts of different drivetrains – an approach fraught with compromise. The new approach has BMW developing unique “architectures” specifically for its electric vehicles. And it may not be long before they completely dominate.
BEVs expected to take over – but when?
There’s a broad consensus within the auto industry that electrified vehicles will take over as the decade progresses. BMW, for now, foresees a mix of plug-ins and BEVs. When asked if he expects to see PHEVs also go away, Bugbee said, “at some point, yes. It’s too early to say the date.”
For now, he added, the company wants to be able to flex with a rapidly changing market.