Wednesday, November 21, 2012

BMW i Does New York

I found a nice place to hang in between the events
The BMW i Born Electric Tour had its only North American stop last week as they set up shop in New York City at a great space across the street from Bryant Park at 1095 Avenue of the Americas.

Just give me a mic and I'm ready to talk EV!
I actually went to the event twice. Once on Tuesday for a private event that only the BMW ActiveE lessees were invited to, and again on Sunday. I made a presentation on Sunday to the participants of the developers Hackathon that BMW i had over the weekend. BMW asked me to talk to the group about my experiences driving BMW's electric cars, the MINI-E and ActiveE over the past 3 1/2 years and I happily agreed to do so.

There wasn't much in the way of new information on the i3 there for me anyway, but this wasn't really meant for those of us following the progress of the i brand closely. It was meant to open the door to the general public for the first time and to show them a glimpse of what BMW i is all about. BMW i is much more than just the cars that are coming from it. It's about the future of urban mobility and where BMW believes we are going. BMW i will have strategic mobility partners like DriveNow, ParkNowMyCityWay and to compliment the cars they will be selling. These services will compliment their plug in line and make urban mobility easier. BMW i is also focusing on sustainable manufacturing and electric vehicle recharging. The carbon fiber used on the i brand cars is made with 100% renewable energy at BMW's Moses Lake, WA carbon fiber plant and the entire Leipzig assembly plant for the i brand cars will be powered by a wind farm that is currently being built. The materials used for the interior also reflect the sustainability theme: "The interior of BMW i3 Concept is characterized by the visible use of natural resources such as European eucalyptus wood. The natural materials underscore the premium standard of BMW i while conserving resources – and during disposal, they emit only as much CO2 as the plant stored during its growth phase. The leather used in the interior is tanned using a natural agent derived from olive leaves. The olive leaf extract provides natural protection against fading and wear while giving the leather a unique look and unmistakable character. The cowhide from southern Germany is thus not only environmentally friendly, but also produced for maximum durability. The wood used in the dashboard is made entirely of timber grown in Europe and certified as 100% sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). By crafting the wooden components in Europe, BMW ensures short delivery routes and sustainability in all stages of production." There were plenty of displays that focused on the sustainability side of the brand. Personally I think they could have benefited from balancing that off a bit with some more info on how the cars are fast, smooth and fun to drive.

Jose giving one of many i3 presentations
There were very helpful and well informed assistants there, in particular a woman named Barbara was very helpful. She led one of the tours on Tuesday and was on the main floor on Sunday answering questions about the i3. However the best presentation award in my opinion goes to Jose Guerrero of BMW i. Jose spent much of Tuesday night at the i3 display explaining every detail (that he can at this time) to the ActiveE drivers. Jose was great and the ActiveE Electronauts that I spoke to all thought he was very informative and entertaining to listen to. 

I think BMW did nice job on the whole event. They need to begin to inform the public as to what BMW i is all about. As I said before, this wasn't geared for people like me who have seen the concept i3 & i8 a few times already in person and follow everything that is announced. However for the person off the street it was an eye opener. I watched the people walk in on Sunday and marvel at the cars. A couple people even said to their friends "Yeah, but they'll probably never make these because they are too cool" I quickly jumped in and told them that these cars will be on sale starting next year and they were very happy to hear it. One of the real highlights for me was on Sunday. I was talking to Barbara on the main floor and a guy walked up to me and introduced himself. He said he recognized me from reading my blogs and that he's been following them for a while now and reads every post. That was really cool and I want to thank him for taking to he time to stop by and say hello as well as for following my blogs. Hearing people tell me they enjoy them is what really keeps me doing it.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
The i3 advertised range: You better deliver on this promise BMW!

A smaller battery means quicker charging. The i3 will fully charge in 3 hours compared to the ActiveE's 5 hour recharge time
BMW had a display that showed that New York City already has over 100 public charging stations installed


  1. BMW has some talented people on their staff

  2. Thanks for the pictures. I wish BMW would bring this display to Florida. There is a lot of interest in electric cars here

  3. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,

    Joerg, Vancouver

  4. Tom,

    I strongly second your view that BMW should put more advertising emphasis on how the "i" cars "are fast, smooth and fun to drive."

    Sustainability is nice, but I don't think it will sell cars (as you noted re early Leaf ads). Highlighting the minutiae of seat leather processing sounds like something a salesperson might mention after a test drive, not in the opening sales pitch. And knowing the small amount of eucalyptus trim is responsibly harvested won't exactly pull people into showrooms. Or what about, "Select materials lend the open and airy cabin a lounge-like character." Hardly a description of the ultimate driving machine.

    BMW's i3 videos depict cars serenely gliding down city avenues to soothing music, with onlookers passive and calm. Tesla Model S videos, on the other hand, show sudden looks of surprise on the faces of first drivers, big grins, and then an uninhibited outpouring of infectious, unbridled glee. That's the sort of thing that sells cars!

    The i3 should be even more fun to drive than the Model S. Its driving dynamics will be more like a Mini Cooper's. The i3 is about the same size and weight as a Mini, but with a lower center of gravity and great gobs of seamless low-end torque--even more than the turbo-charged Mini Cooper S! It will be a BLAST to drive! (especially with its intuitive single-pedal speed control--about which I haven't heard a marketing peep)

    I'm not sure why BMW hasn't yet chosen to put out Mini-style high-energy advertising. So far, it seems they're targeting core American BMW owners, who in general seem to favor luxury, big engines, and conservative styling (Model S territory). While current BMW owners must be respected as a pool of potential i3 buyers, another target market for the i3 should be Mini owners (and their ilk), giving them a step-up path to premium electric cars.

    BMW's designers seem to know the fine line they walk between the expectations of BMW loyalists and the changes required to open up new market segments. In a BMWBLOG interview with BMW head designer Karim Habib (10/12/2012), concerning the FWD Concept Active Tourer, as well as current and future BMW design, Habib spoke carefully about the need for BMWs to retain their appearance and "values," while intimating the need for BMW to continually "redefine" itself. But when Habib was asked, "Should we expect some futuristic designs within the next 10 years from BMW?" his first thought moved unbidden to the i brand: "I think it's important that our BMW i brand stays independent, because it has different values than core BMWs."

    Habib was acknowledging that the (futuristic) i brand indeed has a different market, which implies the need for an independent marketing strategy. BMW's advertising team has chosen the "sustainable" theme to differentiate the i brand, but many other car manufacturers have also started to incorporate green features and materials. Since the i3 will command a premium price, BMW must give potential buyers a compelling reason to favor the i3. The i3's unique construction makes it a revolutionary and historic car; it also makes it fast, smooth, and fun to drive--a truly "ultimate driving machine," that sets it apart from the competition. So why not make that the i3's marketing theme? Maybe the best way to do that would be to give the Mini ad people a shot at producing an i3 video. I'm pretty sure it would have a completely different character than what we've seen so far (to put it mildly).

    Hopefully we'll see a new advertising direction when the pre-production i3 makes its auto show debut early (please) next year.

  5. Chris:

    Thank you for the well thought out and expressed comment. I have a brief answer. They get it. Just wait and see :)

  6. Hello Tom, it was great to meet and talk with you at the i3 tour. I really do enjoy your blog posts, I tell anyone I speak with about EVS to read your blog. (I also tell them to read Peder's posts too!). I am glad I said hello and never imagined that I would be mentioned in this post. Keep writing ! I will keep reading them. I have learned a lot by reading what you have to say. I also was glad I had a chance to hear you speak to the group that day. The i3 looked great, and will be fun to drive. !! It's like Chris says "counting the days".......!

  7. I'm getting frustrated waiting for i3 details -- meaning the unveil of the production car, with specs, options and hopefully even pricing. For the last three months, car shows have come and gone with no such information (we did get the coupe concept unveil though).

    Any idea when the production i3 will get unveiled? Geneva? New York?

  8. Sorry Chris, that's a highly kept secret. The launch is still about 8 months away. It's been my guess they will do so when they are about 5-6 months from the launch so the spring auto shows would make sense, but I really don't know...

  9. OK thanks Tom! My Volt (and those of many early adopters of the Volt) comes off lease in late December so I'm hoping that the i3 is a possibility for me by then. If anyone from BMW is reading this and wants to discreetly tell me what's up, feel free to contact me via my website :)