BMW AG will roll out the first battery-powered model of its urban Mini brand as part of a broader push to make electric cars more mainstream and counter ambitious plans from rivals.
The new Mini is set to hit the market in 2019 and will be followed in 2020 by a battery-powered version of the BMW X3 sport utility vehicle, Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger said Friday in an interview. The variant of the popular X3 would push into the heart of BMW’s portfolio, signaling the company sees the technology as ready for the mainstream after bundling previous green-car offerings under the “i” subbrand. Both new electric models would have “competitive” driving ranges and prices, Krueger said.

The new Mini and BMW vehicles broaden the company’s electric-car push after it introduced the $42,400 i3 city car in 2013 and the $140,700 i8 plug-in hybrid sports car in 2014. Rivals are now catching up, with automakers from General Motors Co.’s Opel to Renault SA trumpeting their latest electric-car offerings this week at the Paris Motor Show. Mercedes-Benz created the EQ nameplate for a series of battery-powered vehicles, with the first due by the end of the decade. Volkswagen AG will introduce 30 electric cars, including Audi models, by 2025.

“Competitors are now in phase one on their electric strategy, while we’re entering phase two,” said Krueger. “We’re already well on our way to electrifying the core portfolio, using powertrain technology from BMW i.”

BMW was early to develop a stand-alone electric car with the i3 and then introducing plug-in hybrid variants across the main product line. Sales of plug-in hybrid and electric BMW cars is on track to reach about 60,000 vehicles this year, Krueger said, nearly double last year’s figure.

7-Series Additions

Still, BMW’s all-electric expansion stalled in recent years amid concerns about driving range and costs. The recent turnabout stems in part from pressure to meet ever-tighter emissions standards. To reach 2021 targets, the European Union is seeking efficiency improvements from automakers that would be roughly double the gains made since 2010. That’s a challenge for BMW, which is also seeking to bolster its lineup of luxury cars to help pay for investment into self-driving technology.

Plans to add more variants of BMW’s flagship 7-Series sedan are in the works and could include one or two more products in the lucrative segment, said Krueger, who stayed in Munich to deliberate strategy rather than attend the Paris exhibition.

Range and other specifications for the electric Mini and X3 haven’t been finalized yet, the CEO said, speaking following a supervisory board meeting on the company’s strategic path. Depending on how demand develops, adding cars in additional segments is also in the cards, he said, adding that flexibility is key to adapting to unprecedented changes in the auto industry.

Tech Transformation

Manufacturers are facing disruption to their traditional business model of building and selling vehicles, as car-sharing becomes a viable alternative for many consumers and self-driving features emerge. The changes have spawned new competitors like ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc., and Apple Inc. has been exploring options in the auto industry. BMW has responded with services under the Now brand, such as car-sharing service DriveNow.