BMW launched its i subbrand in 2007, birthing the i3 full-electric city car—one of two original models.

BMW launched its i subbrand in 2007, birthing the i3 full-electric city car—one of two original models.

TOP officials of BMW, along with executives from the Philippine distributor of the brand, Asian Carmakers Corp. (ACC), last week presented the concept of electric-power and low-emission mobility and its benefits to Asean markets, including the Philippines.

Dr. Kay Segler, BMW AG’s senior vice president for special projects in Asia, cited several factors that are driving change in the way cars are being propelled. While admitting difficulty at pinpointing which alternative power plant option may be accepted by the market in future—he cited mobile phones supplanting digital cameras’ role as an example of how unpredictable technological changes can get—the executive said concerns regarding the environment, urbanization, governmental policies, customer expectations and the preference of society in general influence the outcome.

Segler said the mix of vehicles will become more diverse in the years ahead. With BMW he noted the product strategy is to come up with models that can be split as either evolutionary or revolutionary. Those belonging to the former category are powered by conventional internal-combustion engines, but which have been lavished by energy- and emission-saving techs. The result are engines that have some of the lowest emission levels in the car business, he said.

Revolutionary models, meanwhile, count in electric vehicles.

“There will come a tipping point when cars become electric,” Segler said.

The strategy is apparently part of BMW’s sustainable-mobility target, in which the company sees a 25-percent reduction of vehicle emissions by the time 2020 rolls by. One of the ways it intends to meet this is by further reducing its models’ carbon footprint in Europe, a move that, according to Segler, affects BMW cars worldwide.

“It’s luxury defined by sustainability,” ACC President Maricar Parco billed the brand’s present and upcoming range of energy-efficient premium models, as well as processes that make manufacturing vehicles more planet-friendly.

i, electric
Besides a slew of fuel-efficient gasoline engines, BMW also has clean diesels, hybrids and plug-in electric hybrids (the carmaker had even brought out a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle years back). In 2007 BMW launched its i sub-brand project. To date, i models that came out this initiative count the i3 fully electric city car and i8 plug-in hybrid sports car.

Presently, the i3 is sold in limited numbers, with only 30 countries getting it now. Among those markets is Singapore, the first in the region to sample BMW’s lunge at electro-mobility.

One of the factors that weigh down the i models’ forward thrust is cost—EVs have notoriously pricey components, and so are correspondingly expensive. It does not help that market demand is still low as consumers have yet to warm up to a mobility technology that is still alien to many. These concerns limit production, which in turn can only become cheaper as more EVs are built.

One solution, according to Segler and Sergio Solero, president of BMW Asia, is for more governments across the planet to offer incentives on electric vehicles. While certain countries are dangling tax breaks to so-called green cars, still the number could grow. In Singapore, for instance, BMW said it is in the thick of negotiating for certain perks so the i3 could become a more sensible choice for consumers.

Green talk
Solero cited the importance of the Asean in BMW’s plans, saying that to date the carmaker’s growth in the region is higher than that it managed globally. Another thing making the region attractive is its population, the BMW executive said.

“The GDP of each country is not remarkable. But put together, all 10 Asean markets become significant,” Solero said. “In the last three years or so, the Philippines was able to rise within the region. The potential for Philippines is extremely important.”

Part of BMW’s strategy in realizing this potential is the introduction of the i models. But, according to Solero, this may happen only if certain fiscal incentives, as well as non-fiscal ones (like special lanes or free toll fees for EVs) are offered. And there is the issue of erecting infrastructure—city-wide charging stations, for example—that would support EV use.

Still, the BMW executive remains optimistic, saying if there is enough pressure from consumers, governments may consider certain possibilities. The case is true for Norway, which Solero cited was not included in the original list of countries slotted to get the i3 but which now has it, thanks to consumers speaking their mind on EV matters.

“And that is why we would like to spark the same conversation in the Philippines,” said ACC Executive Director Glen Dasig.


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