BMW Sells i8 as Germans See Tesla as Choice of One: Cars – Bloomberg
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) is
rolling out the plug-in i8, its first sports car in more than
three decades, in a bid to keep its cutting-edge image as Tesla
Motors Inc. (TSLA) shakes up the luxury auto market.
The world’s largest maker of upscale vehicles starts
deliveries today of the $135,700 hybrid hot rod to show it can
do more than make conventionally powered sedans and sport-utility vehicles. BMW’s most expensive model combines an
electric motor and a lightweight carbon-fiber frame to get
better gas mileage than the Toyota Prius and accelerate faster
than a Porsche 911, demonstrating the breadth of its technology
with Tesla set to outsell BMW in emission-free cars.
“Germany’s premium automakers feel Tesla’s rise more
keenly because they’re expected to be the biggest innovators,”
said Juergen Pieper, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Bankhaus
Metzler. “Tesla will be able to win over people who’d normally
buy a BMW. Even in Germany, people are lining up to test drive”
the U.S. carmaker’s Model S sedan, the brand’s only car.
For BMW, which claims to make the “ultimate driving
machine,” Tesla’s emergence threatens to make the German
brand’s refined muscle cars appear antiquated, putting at risk a
business model that depends on its ability to command premium
prices. BMW is particularly vulnerable to Tesla’s inroads
because it’s a stand-alone luxury-car maker in contrast to
Volkswagen AG’s Audi and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.
“The i8 is a brand shaper,” Ian Robertson, head of sales
and marketing for BMW, said in an interview. “Today
sustainability is another important element of premium cars and
it may very quickly become a must-have.”
While Tesla sells about one vehicle for every 60 sold by
BMW, the Palo Alto, California-based manufacturer led by Elon Musk has become a sought-after brand for trendy consumers
because it offers clean motoring and a maverick image.
The $63,570 Model S can drive as far as 265 miles before
needing to recharge, and Tesla operates fast-charging stations
in North America and Europe that are free for its customers to
facilitate long-distance driving.
“It represents the right direction, a paradigm change,”
said Michael Willberg, chief executive officer of German
headphones maker Ultrasone AG. He got a Tesla Model S in
February after driving Mercedes and Audi cars for 20 years and
has driven from the Munich area to Berlin, Cologne and Dresden.
“Tesla is the car of our times.”
In a bid to counter that, the i8 can drive emission-free
for 23 miles and offers flourishes like distinctive wing doors
and optional laser headlights. The rollout today at a ceremony
near BMW’s Munich headquarters caps a development effort that
started about a year before Tesla’s first car — a discontinued
roadster — hit the road in 2008.
After decades of relying on performance-oriented sedans and
SUVs, the i8 marks BMW’s first pure-bred sports car since the
M1, which was halted in 1981.
The 362-horsepower i8 accelerates to 100 kilometers (62
miles) per hour in 4.4 seconds, compared with 4.6 seconds for
the Porsche 911 Carrera. Combining a three-cylinder gasoline
engine with an electric motor that can propel the car for 37
kilometers emission free, the i8 gets the equivalent of about
135 miles per gallon, compared with 51 mpg for the Prius. Tesla
is unfazed by the new competition.
“For buyers looking for an all-electric premium sedan that
seats up to seven, there is a choice of one — the Model S,”
said Tesla spokesman Simon Sproule. “For buyers still wanting
to put gas in a tank, the choices have never been broader.”
The BMW sports car, which has already made a cameo
alongside Tom Cruise in a “Mission: Impossible” movie, is part
of a broader effort by BMW to polish its image as an innovator
with the “i” eco-friendly subbrand. The plug-in sports car is
the second model after introducing the i3 city car in 2013.
The compact all-electric i3 has an order book stretching
for the next six months and is helping win over new customers
with 80 percent of the buyers fresh to the brand, Robertson
said. BMW is committed to pushing the technology.
“Zero emissions is going to play a role in our industry,”
said Robertson. “There is currently no other viable option” to
making the car sustainable.
Aside from the ability to drive on electric power, both i
models feature frames made with carbon fiber, which is about 50
percent lighter than steel to reduce the cost of the batteries
and improve performance. (Tesla’s Model S is built on an
IHS Automotive forecasts that BMW will sell 23,000 i models
this year, trailing Tesla’s 31,200 sales of the Model S. BMW’s
namesake brand in total is set to deliver 1.78 million cars in
2014. Even with demand for the i3 and i8 modest, the company is
committed to the marque.
“You don’t develop a brand like ‘BMW i’ if you don’t think
about the road ahead,” said Robertson. “We spent a lot of
money on this and are definitely thinking long term. There are
going to be others in the BMW i lineup.”
Early response to the i8 shows that it is doing what BMW
hoped for: that is, turning heads. During recent testing in
California, the car had enough star power to gain paparazzi-like
attention from passersby on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, where
exotic cars are commonplace.
“People were jumping into the street with their
smartphones to get a picture,” Carsten Breitfeld, project
manager for the i8, said in an interview. “It’s not easy to get
that kind of attention on Rodeo Drive.”
To contact the reporter on this story:
Elisabeth Behrmann in Munich at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Chad Thomas at