The i3 would have a hard time, you could see that at its launch: on the tires. The towering body was already getting used to, but the footwear of the first pure electric car Made in Bavaria finally made the car a freak. Wheels the diameter of a party pizza were that, at the same time extremely narrow. In the tuning scene such tires are mocked as "cutting wheels".
BMW was of course aware of what a mortgage the pioneer would be burdened with. After all, almost all manufacturers equip their cars across all segments and against better knowledge from the factory with wider tires, because customers want it. What customers do not want: Thin tires - although they significantly reduce the consumption of a car. In this respect, it was not only the future of the i3 that could be guessed on the basis of the wheels. But also read the sacred zeal with which BMW ran the project.
On Tuesday, BMW has announced that the i3 will not receive a successor, but expire sometime in the next few years. His brother in spirit, the hybrid sports car i8, already drawn in April 2020, the plug.
This concludes one of the most ambitious projects in recent German automotive history. All future electric vehicles of the brand will stand on new, uniform platforms. This is reasonable given China's growing electric car competition and rising cost pressures in this segment.
Gigantic effort, pitiful earnings
The i3 was reasonably only as an idea, as a concept, but never for the corporation. At a time when the rest of German manufacturers were still suspiciously eyeing electromobility, they were throwing impressive resources in Bavaria towards a highly uncertain future. To reduce the weight of the body and thus increase the range, BMW made the body made of carbon. Rarely had an industrial product of comparable size been produced from the material, which is why Bavaria set up a factory in the USA specifically to produce the black fibers in sufficient quantities. In Germany, the new "black gold" was then baked in the form of special resins.
A gigantic effort for a solitaire project, of which - except for the i8 - no other vehicle of the brand benefited appreciably. It was not the only wayward one: long before the public debate about sustainability was as broad as it is today, BMW used materials for the interior of the i3 that were either recycled or made from renewable raw materials, such as hemp fiber door panels. At a time when the VW Group and Mercedes-Benz were still hesitant, BMW marched in the direction of the future and was uncompromising. Efficiency as a top priority, at least as far as the energy consumption of the car when driving is concerned.
This ambition, which cost BMW an estimated development budget of three billion euros, was not rewarded. The lighthouse project hardly developed any appeal. Since market launch in 2013, BMW has sold 150,000 i3 cars. This is, measured against the previous e-car sales figures, quite neat, but far below the expectations of BMW. Although i3 and i8 have given the group the image of the technical pioneer, they only recorded losses. Even BMW internal say managers today self-critical, it was probably too early with the i3, the market for electric cars at this time not ripe.
Only early start, then fatal full braking
External critics say, however, that BMW would have had to add an i4 and an i5 much faster after the i3. To wait until 2021 and thereby forfeit his pioneering role, was fatal. Probably also because BMW slackened so quickly after the early start, emanated leading minds: The mastermind of the i-project, Ulrich Kranz, developed today for the US start-up Canoo new e-cars. The i8 developer Carsten Breitfeld is now the boss of the e-car farmer Faraday Future. Head of Product Concepts BMW i, Christian Senger, is today the Board Member responsible for software at Volkswagen.
Criticism also comes from the industry, because BMW - unlike for example Tesla - does not have its own dedicated e-platform. With this, the benefits of electric cars, for example, the space liberated by the lack of engine and transmission space, more consistently use. In fact, the i3 was born at a time when it was still unclear what direction drive technology would take. Batterielektrisch? Fuel cell? Or maybe combustion engines, perhaps powered by synthetically produced e-fuels?
Against the background of this great insecurity, the group has opted for architectures for cost reasons, in which battery drives, combustion engines or hydrogen drives can be installed flexibly. This strategic ambiguity - a little electric here, a bit of hydrogen there, and holding on to the combustor - has become the fated BMW boss Harald Krüger fatal. Although the whole board and the supervisory board were behind the hesitant nature of e-mobility, Krüger had been unable to provide a clear route.
The problem of the i3: He was not an SUV
He must now find his successor Oliver Zipse. A radical concentration on the electric car, as VW has announced, is not expected under him. But after all, Zipse wants to sell a million e-vehicles by the end of 2021. The next few years should belong to the battery electric cars, only later - from about the middle of the next decade - BMW sees a growing demand for fuel cell cars.
Pioneer of Bavaria's second electric offensive is the i4, a mid-range car with which BMW wants to attack Tesla's Model 3 from 2021 onwards. At the same time or shortly thereafter, the iNext, which should be called i5, is a mixture of crossover and van. Compared to the i3, these are normal cars, and that's probably fine too.
If you look at this year's IAA in Frankfurt, it is clear why the i3 could not be a bestseller. Above all, the Chinese manufacturers present there series-ready electric cars whose mass suitability is obvious: they are grotesquely large SUVs with gigantic batteries for ranges, as they have also Verbrennerfahrzeuge. That's what customers want. Cars that look like they used to, but with power. The main thing, not thin tires.