Friday, May 31, 2013

BMW i's Ulrich Kranz Talks About How BMW i Started

Kranz stands in front of the CFRP passenger cell of an i3 used for crash testing.

BMW i Project manager Ulrich Kranz recently spoke with Automobilwoche about how BMW i came to be. Automobilwoche's sister publication Automotive News Europe then posted the following interview on their site:

How did Project i get started? Did BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer knock on your door one day and say: The two of us need to discuss the future of the automobile?
- It wasn't entirely like that. At that point, some management board workshops were under way and dealing with the future of BMW. A number of initiatives were developed to get BMW in shape for 2020. Project i was an initiative that we carried out as part of our Number One strategy.

Was it already called that?
- Its name was already Project i, and in 2007 I got the job of turning it into a reality.

What were you asked to do? 

- The job was to position BMW for the future -- and that was in all fields: from materials to production, from technologies to new vehicle architectures. The agenda included the development of sustainable mobility concepts, new sales channels and marketing concepts, along with acquiring new customers.

How great was your freedom?
- I had the freedom to assemble a team the way I wanted. The project was not tied to one of the company's brands so it could tackle any problem. We were allowed to completely break away from the existing structures.

How big was the team at the start?
- Besides myself, it was a team of seven at first: a designer; a vehicle architect; a purchaser; and three other specialists in production, marketing and finance; and then someone to keep the whole organization running. We call that individual a process steerer.

How big is your team now?
- Today several hundred people work on the development of the BMW i vehicle and the mobility services associated with it.

What criteria did you use to choose your people? Did you look for visionary types?
- I was allowed to obtain the right employees both internally and externally, and that is what I did. One issue was very important to me: I looked for people who had once been independent professionals or were operating their own businesses because they approach an issue holistically, consider the long term and think strategically. In addition, I brought a mix of young guns and veterans who had already brought a vehicle to volume production.

How did everything proceed after the team was established?
- At first, we launched an intensive research phase that dealt with mobility questions and customers' future needs. Where do we need to delve deeply into the issue of sustainability? How well will customers accept a new product and a new technology such as electric mobility? Urbanization was one of the identifiable trends. In 2007, more people already lived in cities than in the countryside. Based on forecasts, more than 60 percent of the world's population will live in an urban environment in 2030. We wanted to see what that meant concretely on site.

Where did your team travel?
- We traveled to a total of 20 mega-cities, including Los Angeles, Mexico City, London, Tokyo and Shanghai. We met people who live in metropolises and who indicated that they had a sustainable lifestyle. We lived with them, traveled with them to work and asked questions.

What did you ask them?
- We wanted to know the products that they would like from a car manufacturer, how their commute to work could be improved and how they imagined their mobility in the future. As a second step, we asked the mayors and city planners in each metropolis about their infrastructure problems, the regulations for internal combustion engines and the advantages of electric vehicles.

What findings did you reach?
- One finding was that there are great differences between the metropolises. For example, Barcelona is an old city with narrow streets that has grown over time. The demand for scooters is high there. In Mexico City, cars provide protection and a retreat to escape all the hectic activity there. In Tokyo, there is a good traffic control system; customers want to be well networked in their vehicles and get an overview of all the control systems. Some cultural circumstances surprised us as western Europeans. For example, a large portion of the Japanese living in Tokyo between the ages of 18 and 22 are not even interested in getting a driver's license.

Why has no special small car been developed for metropolises with little space for parking?
- That also occurred to us. But all our inquiries told something else: Customers do not want to do without comfort and safety. They are actually very sensitive to environmental issues, but they are not willing to put up with substantial limitations in their vehicles.

How do your respondents plan to travel in the future?
- Despite the traffic jams, many people do not want to do without a car of their own.

Parallel to your research, you promoted the pilot project for the electric Mini E. Why?
- It was clear to us relatively quickly that the first stage in development would be a car that operated as environmentally friendly as possible, meaning emission-free. The simplest, quickest way to see how an electric vehicle would go down with the public was to convert an existing car and send it into the market. A Project i team had customers test electric Minis in Europe, Asia and the U.S. The findings proved extremely valuable to us.

Where did you get the idea to construct the passenger compartment of carbon?
- We knew that we needed a lightweight vehicle and that we had years of expertise in carbon-fiber reinforced plastics and mixes of materials. We asked ourselves how we could reduce throughput times and the investment in manufacturing through the use of a new vehicle architecture.

Can you cite an example?
- One example is the paint shop: a large building involving high investment and long throughput times. If it were no longer needed, we could save a tidy sum of money. The desire for a completely corrosion-free vehicle emerged from the development department. Carbon-fiber reinforced plastic met these standards, but it had to be cost-effective -- or we had to compensate for the price somewhere else. A smaller vehicle could get by with a smaller battery, and the battery is considerably more expensive than carbon-fiber reinforced plastic. So one thing led to another.

When did it become clear that the Megacity Vehicle would be a carbon vehicle?
- We discussed the issue with the management board in 2008.

What was Project i's greatest challenge?
- This is a very comprehensive project. One is developing a technology separately within one team. Balancing out the entire Project i, considering all the aspects and keeping them all in view, that was each of the participants' true masterstroke.

Initially, did you think the job would be so wide-ranging?
- That was clear to me immediately. I saw it as a real opportunity. But you have to find good people who also see such a major undertaking as an opportunity. And we have these people.

Kranz gave Georg Kacher of Car Magazine a ride in a test i3 a few months ago. Kacher was very impressed and wrote a glowing article on his impressions.

Monday, May 27, 2013

BMW Presents "Driving the Next Movement" Video Series

BMW recently introduced a series of eleven short videos titled "Driving the Next Movement". I was surprised to find one of the video's(number seven & shown above) featured me talking about my experiences driving my MINI-E and ActiveE, and how I have come to accept the range of these cars without compromising my lifestyle.

I have spent a good a lot of time over the past few years being filmed by BMW and talking about my EV experiences without really knowing exactly what BMW had planned to use it for so it definitely was cool to see some of my interviews being used.

The entire video series can be seen from the BMW Group YouTube page from this link. They are all about BMW's electric vehicle program, the materials used and manufacturing process of the i3. Take a half hour and watch all eleven video's, they are really interesting as well as informative.

Friday, May 17, 2013

BMW CEO Reithofer Shows Strong Support For Electric Vehicles

Dr. Norbert Reithofer, CEO of BMW AG stands beside the concept i3

It's common today for people to question the legitimacy of the commitment major OEM's have today in regards to their electric vehicle programs. Most are in one way or the other developing or have already brought to market a car that plugs in. Some are pure EV's like the Nissan LEAF and others are plug in hybrids like the Chevy Volt.

While both Nissan and Chevy are clearly committed to plug in vehicles by offering volume production cars and will make as many as they can sell, some other manufacturers haven't been so supportive of them. These manufacturers have begrudgingly made a few thousand copies with the sole purpose of complying with the California Air Resource Boards mandate which requires the top six auto manufacturers to lease or sell a minimal amount of zero emission cars. These low volume "compliance cars" generally get very little support from the manufacturer and even less support from the dealerships, many of which don't even stock them in regular inventory.

Over the past couple years many people and even a few journalists have commented on blogs and EV websites that they believe BMW is also just developing the i3 for CARB compliance and they have questioned BMW's commitment to plug in vehicles. Being in the MINI-E and now ActiveE programs and having the opportunity to talk to program managers and engineers working in the electric vehicle team I have never doubted that BMW was serious about electric vehicles but I understand why others may. Many people wanted an electric BMW they could buy and the trial lease programs of the MINI-E and ActiveE didn't offer that. However their wait will soon be over as the i3 will be available for sale before the end of the year. It will be a full scale production car, available all over the world and BMW will make as many of them as there is demand for. It's not a limited run compliance car and BMW is going to do what they can to support their dealership network and assist them in selling them.

Even though everything I've seen points to BMW taking electric vehicles very seriously, it's still great to see the CEO comes out as supportive of their plug in vehicle program as Dr. Reithofer did this week at BMW's Annual General Meeting. Other than Nissan's Carlos Ghosn, I haven't seen a CEO of any other major automobile company come out as strongly in support of their companies venture into making electric vehicles. He even calls for Germans to get over their "angst" with electric cars. Well done Dr. Reithofer!

The following is an excerpt from the Statement by Dr. Norbert Reithofer, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, 93rd Annual General Meeting of BMW AG in Munich on 14th May 2013:

"But  2013 is also about revolution for us, as we launch series production of our electric vehicles.

At last year’s Annual General Meeting, we showed you the BMW i8 concept car: a plug-in hybrid; a genuine sports car with the fuel consumption of a small car. Today, you can view the pure-electric BMW i3 concept car. We believe in electro-mobility – and are putting it on the road. Germany is respected and admired the world over for its engineering expertise and powers of innovation. But “German Angst” is also a concept the rest of the world is familiar with. “German Angst” refers to how, when it comes to making radical changes, we in this country like to engage in long and fearful discussions: because we Germans tend to see more problems than opportunities. And it is no different with electro-mobility.

Being the spearhead of change means taking a calculated risk.
There is no guarantee of success – not even on the road to sustainable mobility.
Progress has to be imagined, earned and paid for.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The future belongs to those who dare to take bold actions. We cannot ignore the need for new approaches – especially when circumstances are changing. Because the market certainly punishes latecomers.

Shaping change also means overcoming resistance.

As Machiavelli wrote, 500 years ago: “…the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders”.

Or, quite simply: The innovator stands alone.

Customers are waiting for attractive options – options which we can deliver.
We will succeed in this. And I can give you seven reasons why:


Our BMW i models have strong emotional appeal. Customers will buy an electric car if it appeals to them just as much as a conventional vehicle. I myself have test-driven both the BMW i3 and i8 several times. I can assure you that these cars’ step-less acceleration to top speed guarantees real “sheer driving pleasure”. The i3 and the i8 fit the brand perfectly. They are genuine BMWs.

Reason number two:

We take a holistic approach to future mobility. More than that, in fact: As an engineer I can promise you that we are revolutionising automotive construction.

The vehicle architecture of the BMW i3 is unique: with a Life module and a Drive module.
  • The materials we use are unique: a passenger compartment built of carbon fiber and a Drive module made of aluminum.
  • The production processes are unique: High-tech adhesives are now used for procedures that used to require welding, bolting and soldering.
  • Our production times are unique: We use fewer parts, and modules are produced in parallel. As a result, production of the BMW i3 takes only half as long as that of a similar-sized vehicle from our regular portfolio.
 There are also benefits for our associates, whose work has been made easier.

  • Workstations are more ergonomic.
  • Assembly is quieter.
  • Production halls use natural light.

None of this has been done before.

The third reason:

We monitor customer needs around the globe. Drivers in Shanghai and California are not particularly interested in how we get from Flensburg to Garmisch. They have different everyday mobility issues.
And they need different solutions. Companies who focus only on the German market as a measure of the success of electro-mobility will fall short. After all, megacities are already limiting conventional individual transportation.

In Beijing and Shanghai, for example, number plates are awarded by lottery, with considerably more applicants than plates. But electric vehicles are exempt from the lottery process and the associated fee. These local, and even national, decisions will boost demand for electric vehicles and other drive trains.

Customers around the world have tested our electric MINI E and BMW ActiveE cars, clocking up more than 20 million kilometres. Their experience has shown that:

A range of 150 km is perfectly adequate for the vast majority of drivers. Also, with a range extender, that distance can be increased to up to 300 km.
  • Worldwide, the average distance driven daily is no more than 64 km. Most cars are not actually in use for more than 22 hours of the day – so the battery can easily be charged during that time.
Fourth reason:

Many customers have already told us they are interested in buying a BMW i3 – a car they have not yet seen as a series model, with a technology they are not familiar with. Customers trust in our expertise and powers of innovation. They trust that we can deliver “sheer driving pleasure” in our electric cars, too.

The fifth reason:

We have received a lot of encouraging feedback from media and analysts.

Even before 2013 had started, SPIEGEL magazine declared: “The BMW i3 is the car of the year.” Auto-BILD wrote – I quote: “This car is a revolution. The i3 does everything differently and many things better.” End of quote. Try it for yourselves, Ladies and Gentlemen: Google BMW i, and see which company people believe is capable of shaping the mobility of tomorrow.

The sixth reason:

Our mobility services are in step with the times.

Around 110,000 customers in Germany and the US are already using our DriveNow car sharing service – with more joining every day. Our ParkNow mobility service in San Francisco is also gaining momentum.  As well, more and more people are taking advantage of our practical apps such as “Park at my House” and “My City Way” for easier mobility in cities. In this way, we are also reaching out to younger target groups.

And the seventh reason why we will succeed:

When it comes to the future of mobility, BMW has very good instincts.
We lead the way.

  • We focus on sustainability. Others follow.
  • We focus on carbon fibre. Others follow.
  • We focus on three-cylinder engines in the premium segment. Others follow.
Boldness and a pioneering spirit have made the BMW Group what it is today: the world’s leading manufacturer of premium automobiles.

BMW i will not decide our future success alone. But the fact of the matter is:
We need both: evolution and revolution; continuing development and radical change.

In Leipzig, the pre-series BMW i3 models are already rolling off the production line.

In case anyone is still in any doubt – this is a clear signal that the i3 is definitely coming to market. And we will earn money with it, too."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

BMW i3 Autobahn Video

Car Acceleration TV posted a YouTube video of an i3 cruising along the Autobahn and at one point it was traveling at the i3's electronically-governed top speed of 93mph. It's only a minute and a half, but hey that's all we get for now! One thing that's clear is the car has an open sunroof so if anyone was wondering if that will be an available option, here's your answer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

BMW i3 Cost a Hot Topic

There are lot of unknowns with the i3. BMW has been very careful to only leak out small details, much to the chagrin of journalists and enthusiasts interested in the car. However the most sought after piece of information that everyone wants to know is how much will it cost?

It seemed like we finally got some clarity on that a couple days ago when Diana Kurylko of the Automotive News wrote a story that claimed the i3's would be "priced at about $40,000". The story was of course picked up by many other outlets and suddenly everywhere you looked on the internet you saw "BMW i3 to cost $40,000". I was skeptical of his from the start. While I have no official inside information on what the price will be I do not believe it will be as low as $40,000. I'm thinking $43,000 to $45,000 as the base price, with options like the range extender and premium electronics packages pushing the price up to and even over $50,000.

Willisch handing me the keys to my ActiveE
So after re-reading Kurylko's piece a few times, it became clear to me that she came up with the $40,000 figure herself, not from anyone BMW. During her interview with BMW NA CEO Ludwig Willisch, he told her the i3 would be priced "roughly the same as a well-equipped 3-series sedan" and Kurylko added the $40,000 herself, assuming that is what a well-equipped 3-series sedan costs. Only she was wrong. A well equipped 3-series costs closer to $45,000 depending on what you consider well equipped. Realizing this I posted my doubts on the BMW i3 Facebook group page and opened a thread for discussion. John Voelcker of High Gear Media, one of the leading journalists in the US covering electric vehicles, was the first to comment and I could see he was interested in getting the facts straight. He later posted that he contacted BMW spokesman Dave Buchko to follow up on the Automotive News piece and Buchko cleared things up a bit, reiterating that Willisch only said the i3 would be comparably priced to a well-equipped 3-series and didn't offer any specific price, and that such a car costs more than $40,000 He actually said a well equipped 3-series "falls more in the $45,000 to $50,000 range." Voelckers entire follow up story in GreenCarReports can be seen here.

So the hope of a $40,000 base i3 price was short lived. Personally I never thought the price would be that low. I believe it will be in the $43,000 to $45,000 range before any tax incentives so the final cost on a base i3 without options should be under $40,000 after the $7,500 federal tax rebate for those that qualify. Add a nice array of options and the range extender and you're probably talking $52,000 -$53,000, or about $45,000 after the federal tax credit. Final pricing probably won't be announced till after the i3's official debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

BMW Teams Up With Solarwatt to Offer Solar Carports

As someone that have been driving an electric vehicle and charging it with renewable energy from my rooftop solar array for more than three years now, I can certainly appreciate this concept. BMW just announced a partnership with German based Solarwatt to provide solar carports for their i brand customers. It's unclear if these products will be available to customers here in the US as well as Europe, but I'd bet if that's not the case then there will be a similar arrangement with a US vendor also.  

For BMW's ActiveE customers like myself, BMW partnered with Real Goods Solar  last year to offer a discounted rate for any ActiveE lessee that wanted to have solar installed at their home and many took advantage of the offer. It's clear the synergy of EV + PV makes both technologies even better and manufacturers like BMW realize this and want to capitalize on the opportunity as well as make the path to using renewable energy for their customers easier.
My 8.775kW solar array powers my car and nearly all of my household electric needs.