Frankfurt: BMW goes to great lengths — even extreme ones — to give a buzz for an owner of its models. Now, with the formally unveiled “i” line-up — at the Frankfurt Motor Show — it is intent on giving off a full-on electric charge.
But will it charge up the Middle East marketplace for BMW, currently holding the top rank in the region’s prestige car category? Of the two models launched last week, the hybrid-powered sportscar i8 has the looks to cut a niche once it becomes available in these markets by mid next year.
Priced at 130,000 euros, the i8 can churn up 400-hp but only packs in three cylinders. In a market obsessed with cylinders and more of them, the i8 will need to do some heavy messaging to connect with buyer prospects. Other prestige marques are also getting active in hybrid – Ferrari and Porsche are burnishing their credentials and McLaren has the P1 to go the hybrid way.
The other BMW launch, the all-electric i3, is not marked for this region and only meant for select “global cities” where the environment is suitably in its favour, particularly through generous tax incentives. Think any of the big German cities and California.
Isn’t all of the attention on fuel cell alternates a bit of a distraction when many markets and consumers could be put off by the higher premium added to sticker prices?
“Our cars, by and large, are global products with the exception of diesel engines in Europe, for instance,” said Ian Robertson, global head of sales and marketing for BMW. “There was initial hesitation when we showed the i8 to Middle East dealers and once they had a closer look, it quickly changed to “When can we have it?”.
“Traditionally, it has been that the position of a car in a particular segment is dictated by the number of cylinders and how powerful it is. We were still hung up over defining performance by big cylinders. But it is not that relevant any more.
“We have fitted out four cylinders where it used to be six and that has not materially impacted our sales.
“In the i8’s case, it is the sportscar of BMW, but with a sustainable characteristic as well as performance. The fact that it has a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine is not the issue. This has come in time as the industry is ready for transition.
“As I see it, technology from the i products will migrate to the rest of the models at some point.”