Anyone who questions BMW's effort or sincerity on electrified vehicles should have a chat with Hildegard Wortmann, the German automaker's senior vice president over product management for automobiles and aftersales. I was fortunate to do just that at the Detroit North American International Auto Show earlier this year.

ABG: Where might BMW go with electrified vehicles beyond your i3 urban EV and i8 high-performance hybrid sports car?

"That [regulatory] train has left the station" - Hildegard Wortmann

HW: I think a big advantage is that we now have two bookends: BMW i [green] and BMW M [high performance]. We can use those bookends to foster the BMW brand in total. Are electrified vehicles the answer to CAFE and European regulations? Is that the future? We don't know, but that [regulatory] train has left the station. To achieve all of these regulations worldwide, there is no way to do it without electrification. That is why the activities of BMW i are not just to launch new products. They are our build-up in competence for learning and gaining experience in electrification. We will use those learnings for the total BMW brand. Technology-wise, we now have a really good understanding of what to do, what not to do, how to work with this and how to get a lot of learnings from the infrastructure and everything that goes with it. And depending on how quickly the market takes off, we can scale it and use it across the range. We will use the competence we will have in vehicle electrification for more than just BMW i. There will be other derivatives and electrification of other products.

BMW i3

ABG: Do you see BMW offering pure EVs with larger batteries for greater range?

HW: That's a big feature of the Tesla. The question is to find the best balance [of range vs. battery size, weight and cost]. On the i3, we tried to have the right balance between how much range customers need for daily driving and how much battery we put in there. The market will show us. We have over a million kilometers driven by consumers in the Mini E and ActiveE and a fairly good understanding that those people are not driving that much. Putting a really big battery with all that weight into a car that is meant for urban mobility does not make sense.

ABG: What about extended-range EVs beyond the i3's optional small range extender engine?

"This whole EV movement is in its very early stages."

HW: This whole EV movement is in its very early stages. I think what we need to learn when do we use which car? In Germany, if you drive every weekend between Munich and Hamburg, please don't go for an i3. It would be the complete wrong car for you. But I think customers have a very good understanding. When they say, "I'm mainly going to use the car in the city," the i3 is perfect. And we offer mobility concepts for i3 customers so they can borrow an X5 if they go for a skiing weekend. That's the sort of flexibility customers want. We are seeing a trend where people are less interested in owning cars than in using cars, and I think with that you become more flexible in combining different car concepts.

ABG: Do you have an idea of early customer acceptance of the i3 in Europe?

HW: We had 11,000 orders as of early January.

ABG: What percentage are ordering the range extender engine?

HW: Less than we expected. We were thinking it would be really high, maybe over 80 percent, but it's significantly less. I can't tell you the exact number, but I would say maybe 50 percent.

BMW i3

ABG: With just 650 cc, how much does it limit performance when the battery is down and you're operating on the two-cylinder only?

HW: The operating system will not let you operate on the two-cylinder only because you will not run completely out of battery. We make sure that you always have both available. Think of it as insurance in terms of range. We put so much work into that engine, I can assure you, it's a proper BMW.

ABG: The system leaves some residual charge in the battery for acceleration?

HW: Yes. You will never have only the performance of the 650 cc. You will always have both. That's all about the operating system and how you combine the two. We put a lot of work into finding exactly the best combination, when to bring in the engine and when to run on EV only, and I think it's fairly cleverly done.

ABG: BMW gets high prices for its products but still has to minimize cost and investment, so is there a trade-off between optimizing EV range with a big battery or adding a range extender?

"Whether a complete EV or a plug-in hybrid, it has to be a real driving machine."

HW: It's less of a trade-off financially than in terms of sportiness of the car, driving character and weight. Those are the things we have to be concerned about. We have one basic belief: whatever we do, whether a complete EV or a plug-in hybrid, it has to be a real driving machine. That is what BMW stands for. We had 75 i3s at a test drive facility at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and had a couple thousand test drives, and they all had big smiles on their faces when they came out of the cars. They don't expect an EV to drive like a real driving machine. What surprises people the most is that it is a true BMW.

ABG: Did they have opportunity to experience the handling?

HW: Yes, and they went out in traffic, so there was a variety of driving opportunities. It was the same with the i8 when we had test drive opportunities at the Frankfurt Motor Show. People go in curious and a little skeptical and come out with big smiles and say, "Wow, I did not believe it could drive that fast!" That is what it is all about for us, the main focus of our activities - efficiency on one hand and real BMW driving dynamics on the other. The i3 is meant to be an urban, mega-city vehicle and its performance is designed for that.

ABG: Will we see BMW's electrified vehicles program expanding to other types of vehicles?

HW: Yes. Electrification is here to stay, so whether it's plug-ins or whatever form it takes, we definitely have to continue working with them. This journey has only just started.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 29 Comments
      thecommentator2013
      • 8 Hours Ago
      Nobody will ever sell me an ICE-only car anymore. NO EFFING WAY.
      Seth
      • 8 Hours Ago
      What if someone wants an electrified, or partially electrified, vehicle that looks just like a mainstream model?
      Letstakeawalk
      • 8 Hours Ago
      Anyone notice the i3 cameo on last night's Big Bang Theory?
        Exooc news
        • 8 Hours Ago
        @Letstakeawalk
        saw it... but dont know what was that moving tron blue car
          Letstakeawalk
          • 8 Hours Ago
          @Exooc news
          Was a Volvo concept? http://www.motorauthority.com/pictures/1089538_volvo-concept-xc-coupe-revealed-hints-at-design-of-2015-xc90_gallery-1
      goodoldgorr
      • 8 Hours Ago
      I might be interested in a used i3 in 2023 but I want the range extender with a bigger tank of gas.. I won't buy it with their actual small gas tank.
        gpmp
        • 8 Hours Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        YAY!!! A Dan Frederiksen / goodoldgorr duel!!!
        dan.frederiksen
        • 8 Hours Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        how do you function in the real world :) you don't need a bigger tank. it can drive over 200km on that tank and that's only the rare occasions that you go long distance beyond the battery range. You can't survive filling it up ever 200km???
          goodoldgorr
          • 8 Hours Ago
          @dan.frederiksen
          I have a consumer point of view, I need a smart package without these hassles and there is no reasons to put a small gas tank. They can make what they want with this car but I won't buy it as I can keep my actual car for a long time till. Till that time I will check what will hydrogen offers look like and if they build a sufficient hydrogen infrastructure in my area at a good price then I will forgot that plug-in..
          Marco Polo
          • 8 Hours Ago
          @dan.frederiksen
          @ dan.frederiksen For a guy that doesn't actually own a car of any sort, you sure do a lot of talking.....
      paulwesterberg
      • 8 Hours Ago
      > Are electrified vehicles the answer to CAFE and European regulations? That is the wrong question to ask. The correct question to ask is: Are our customers interested in vehicles that operate cleanly and quietly, have excellent acceleration and low operating costs?
      Spec
      • 8 Hours Ago
      Off to a bit of a rough start. The i8 is beautiful, but let's face it .. . it is nothing but tiny niche halo supercar. The i3 has some great ideas .. . especially the carbon reinforced plastic. And the tiny range-extender is an interesting architecture. But the looks have been off-putting to too many people. And the lack of an option for a larger battery pack instead of the range-extender option is very annoying. But it is a start of beautiful long road.
      Rotation
      • 8 Hours Ago
      I don't know what this talking head is talking about but the i3 does not have "real BMW driving dynamics". It's a nice car, and I'd get one if my LEAF lease were up. But it drives like an EV city car, a good one. It doesn't drive like a BMW.
      • 8 Hours Ago
      From EVUK Electric Vehicles UK - - you may wish to take a look at our latest piece responding to Gary Witzenburg´s irrestible invitation to "chat" to BMW´s Hildegard Wortmann re "sincerity". the i3 etc at: www.EVUK.co.uk/news/index10.html Paul G EVUK Editor UK
      Levine Levine
      • 8 Hours Ago
      The i3 and i8 spell trouble for BMW. Both cars deploy neither high technology nor exude the cache that BMW once coined as the "Ultimate driving machine." As the creator of the performance luxury market, BMW, today, sees its market share moth-eaten by MB and Lexus. Even the lame Acura has had a few nibbles at the expense of BMW. Consumers with large disposal income will purchase Tesla's Model S, not the i8. As for the expensive i3, a rather utilitarian vehicle, the Leaf, Soul EV, and Volt make better alternatives.
      FREEPAT75014
      • 8 Hours Ago
      Complement cut : .... Closest match concept you ever presented is the X5 eDrive PHEV, that would be better than nothing.... if no other choice, despite its ridiculous
      Jim1961
      • 8 Hours Ago
      It's great to see more models competing in the plugin market. When auto companies compete for plugin market consumers win.
      thecommentator2013
      • 8 Hours Ago
      I read again and again that we're at the beginning of the EV trend. WTF? Just start building them.
        Marco Polo
        • 8 Hours Ago
        @thecommentator2013
        @ thecommentator2013 Just go out and buy one ! You've already got over a dozens models to choose from.
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