BMW Doesn’t Think Electric Vehicles Are Right For Most People

Why is the company ragging on its own cars?

BMW i3 concept


Sometimes it seems like a new flashy electric car is announced every week. But the CEO of BMW North America–which has at least two electric vehicles on tap–just announced that he doesn’t think EVs will work for more than 10% of the population. Why is the company ragging on its own cars?

Jim O’Donnell, BMW’s North America chairman and chief executive officer, recently told the Detroit News, “(EVs) won’t work for most people. For at least 90
percent and maybe more of the population, (an EV) won’t work (at the
current battery range).” How forward-looking, Jimbo. That’s a pretty oversimplified statement, to say the least.

The Nissan Leaf, perhaps the most well-known of the new batch of EVs, has an EPA-rated range of 73 miles. That’s perfect for shorter work commutes (or longer ones if there is a charge spot/plug waiting on the other end), as well as quick errands around town. It’s not so useful for long weekend trips. And since Americans love their weekend getaways, this is a problem.

But the U.S. is a two car per household country, which means that it’s perfectly feasible for most people to have a shorter-range EV and a longer-range gasoline vehicle for extended trips. And in any case, the average American drives 29 miles per day–well within the range of the Leaf and the Chevy Volt, which has an all-electric range of 25 miles before its combustion engine kicks in. Perhaps O’Donnell just doesn’t want people buying the electric cars already on the market? Maybe a BMW electric car would be more appealing?

“Maybe 90% [of the population] wouldn’t choose it as a
first vehicle, but they may choose it as a second vehicle,” says the very diplomatic Chevy Volt spokesman Rob Peterson. “I think electric vehicles are here, and I think we’re at the very early
stages of market introduction. To discount the technology at this point is


BMW isn’t the first car company to make this kind of statement about EVs. Last year, Dr. Karl-Thomas
Neumann, Chief Officer for Electric Traction at the Volkswagen Group, told us that approximately 3% of VW vehicles delivered globally by 2020 will be EVs. This is probably in part because VW relies more heavily than most on clean diesel vehicles, which are something of a bridge technology between gasoline-powered cars and EVs. And remember: BMW is also a fan of clean diesel.

Despite its CEO’s negative attitude, BMW is charging ahead with EVs, leasing the ActiveE electric coupe in six major U.S. markets next year and unveiling the i3 pure electric vehicle in 2013. Next time, BMW, it might be wise to refrain from trashing the sales potential of your products.

[Photo credit: BMW (the i3 Megacity vehicle concept)]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more