Minutes after BMW announced it would accelerate its electrification strategy by two years at an event in Munich on Tuesday, a senior BMW executive has said that Europeans don’t actually want to buy pure electric vehicles.
BMW board member and executive Klaus Frölich said at the round-table interview that despite BMW accelerating its plans for 25 new plug-in electric cars to 2023 instead of 2025 – and now also at least one all-electric motorcycle – he doesn’t expect BMW’s all-electric vehicles will attract much interest.
“There are no customer requests for BEVs. None,” Frölich, BMW’s director of development, said according to Forbes.
“There are regulator requests for BEVs, but no customer requests.
“If we have a big offer, a big incentive, we could flood Europe and sell a million (BEV) cars but Europeans won’t buy these things.
“From what we see, BEVs are for China and California and everywhere else is better off with PHEVs with good EV range.”
The comments are curious, considering BMW has positioned itself as a leader in electric vehicles in Europe, and as of December 2018 its electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles accounted for almost 1 in 5 electric cars in Europe.
According to European environmental lobby group Transport and Environment, European carmakers have been deliberately holding back on pure battery electric car sales.
“Carmakers are playing a high-risk game where they’re deliberately postponing sales of cleaner cars to maximize SUV-fueled profits,” said Transport and Environment clean vehicles manager, Julia Poliscanova.
“It may please their shareholders, but it’s a tragedy for our planet. These figures are a stark reminder that governments need to be much more forceful when it comes to promoting zero-emission vehicles, in particular by reforming vehicle taxation and rolling out charge points.”
In Europe, carmakers will soon be subject to significant fines if they don’t meet stringent fuel emissions standards that in 2021 will reduce to just 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre.
As Poliscanova points out, SUVs consistently emit more than their sedan counterparts, and the large vehicles’ popularity further adds to the mix.
Fröhlich says that statements such as this do not take into consideration the current lack of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, and that Europeans are more interested in plug-in hybrids.
“What [Transport and Environment] ignore is that the European customer is not prepared to take the risk on an EV because the infrastructure is not there, resale is not known,” Frölich said.
“We think the customers in Europe they are reluctant to buy BEVs and the plug-ins are the better option. The PHEVs are built on the same architecture as the BEVs, so the ‘Eagle Wing’ battery goes into the floor and we can give them extra range by adding battery modules.”
Fröhlich added that as Europeans are often one-car households, they are holding back from buying purely electric vehicles, whereas in the US it is a very different case.
“Europeans are very reluctant to buy a BEV because Europeans have fewer cars in the garage than a BMW customer in the US,” he said.
“In the US they can have different cars for different purposes, like pickups and SUVs and smaller cars, but often the households in Europe have only one car so they are reluctant to rely purely on a BEV. So a PHEV gives them full freedom and 80km of EV range.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.