Sales are going well. Since its first year of appearance (2013), more i3’s were sold every year and the 2019 Q1 sales have been higher than any Q1 before. Given that overall sales of BMW models showed a decline over the last quarter, this makes the i3 an important car for BMW. Furthermore, if we leave Tesla out of the equation, BMW is so far doing well with its i3 in the electric car market—in 2015 it even made it to the world-wide top 3 of best-selling electric cars. And yet, the i3 is a problem.
It is not because of technology or competition. With the competition quickly increasing the range of their electric cars against affordable prices, the i3 might lag behind with its still limited range against a relatively high price. But I am convinced BMW’s engineers will be able to catch up. After all, they are BMW engineers.
And it is not because BMW drivers wouldn’t want an electric car either. The typical BMW driver is perhaps not the first person switching to an electric car. For that they like the feeling and roaring sound of driving a petrol car too much. But given the increasing coolness of electric cars and the great driving experience they provide, it is just a matter of time before BMW drivers make the switch.
No, the reason that the i3 is a problem for BMW is that it isn’t really a BMW. This is best illustrated by the very fact that I owned one. I am not a BMW fan, have never owned a BMW before and would never have even considered buying one if it weren’t the i3. I bought it because it was an electric car that suited my needs—despite it being a BMW. And I’d bet that for the large majority of i3 owners, the i3 was their first and only BMW too.
And that’s where the problem is: the i3 doesn’t match BMW’s DNA. It is not a car for BMW drivers. It deviates too much from what the brand stands for and from the kind of cars BMW is normally producing. It is just too different. Its size doesn’t fit the average BMW driver, nor does its design. And my experience when buying it was that even BMW salespeople don’t like it. They found it an awkward car that didn’t really match their ideas about what a proper car should be like.
So there you go. Despite the i3 being a great car which sells well too, it is turning BMW into an inconsistent brand. This is confusing and could be harming BMW on the long run. The i3 exemplifies an inconsistent strategy that makes it ambiguous what BMW stands for and which customers it targets. Of course I could be wrong and I hope I am, but unless BMW repositions itself towards a brand in which the i3 does fit naturally, I expect this car to create some problems for the company.
This post was published earlier here on my forbes.com page.
Image credit: Getty