What BMW Really Thinks About Electric Vehicles

The car giant doesn’t see an EV in every driveway–yet.

EV charging


Last week, BMW upset electric vehicle lovers everywhere when Jim O’Donnell, the company’s North American chairman and CEO, said that EVs won’t work at their current battery range for at least 90% of the population–and that the U.S. government should end the $7,500 EV tax credit. Does this mean these cars aren’t going to be in every driveway in five years?

Actually, people are pretty excited about electric cars–as is BMW, which is making them. So now the company is rushing to do damage control lest we think that it is not behind its own entry into the market. Fast Company had the chance to talk to Tom Kowaleski, VP of Corporate Communications for BMW North America, to find out what the company really thinks about EVs–and other alternative vehicle technologies.

So how about O’Donnell’s comment that EVs may not work for 90% of the population? BMW seems to stand by it. Kowalski tells us, “In the next 15 years, internal combustion engines will still be between 85% to 95% of personal mobility around the world. Because we have such a diverse driving environment [in the U.S.], in some areas it could be higher, in some it could be lower.” That is a pretty conservative view of what innovation we might make happen with electric cars in the next decade.

But BMW is still planning on rolling out EVs for that 5%, starting with a lease program for the ActiveE electric coupe next year. For now, the company believes it is catering to a niche market, mainly because EV tech does admittedly have some kinks to work out, including short battery range and lack of infrastructure.

And as for O’Donnell’s comment about abolishing EV tax credits–credits that people might want to use to, say, buy a BMW EV? BMW is backtracking on that one. “Oftentimes in
the early days, it does require a tactical use of the right
incentives to stimulate the market. It was never our intention to say
that we don’t like incentives on EVs, rather that we think in particular
incentives in America should not be used to stimulate one [technology] over the
other,” says Kowalski.

In other words, the government shouldn’t play favorites, but BMW still appreciates having some sort of cash bump for its customers. And the company isn’t ignoring the subsidies, either–it has at least two EVs in the pipeline and no current plans for a commercial hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.


[Photo by hddod]

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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