Britain’s fleet industry is set to play a key role in shaping the destiny of the first European battery car with a premium badge.
BMW has named the UK as a “significant” market for its i3 electric vehicle and believes company drivers will help steer the ground-breaking city car to showroom success.
Available as a battery-only car, or with a motorcycle engine range-extender option, the high-tech hatchback due to arrive in the UK at the end of the year is already winning interest from the sector, said corporate operations manager Steve Chater.
“We have established that our customers have a desire for this product and are just as excited as us about it.
But we’re driving into a critical new era for mobility and we have to make it work,” he told Fleet News.
Speaking as the doors opened on the results of a decade of research and a €600 million (£500m) investment in zero-emission vehicle production in Leipzig, Germany, Chater said BMW UK had spent several years discussing the creation of its eco sub-brand products with corporate customers.
“We’ve shared a lot with our partners, end-users, leasing companies and industry experts during our journey to the i3 and we have held events, activities and workshops to try to understand the challenges, barriers and opportunities presented by electric vehicles,” he said.
“We have been helping customers understand application and usage issues because there is a level of uncertainty about charging infrastructures, grants and subsidies.
“However, feedback from trials of the nine ActiveE concept cars we have with customers is most encouraging – they are enthused.”
Chater expects the five-door, four-seat i3 to overcome many of the challenges facing electric cars.
“With an architecture created for electric propulsion, it provides great space optimisation and overcomes range challenges, but in the fleet sector, there will still be certain applications for which the car will be inappropriate – it will work in many applications, but it will not be suitable for fleets that involve very high mileage.
“While I feel the 100-mile range is excellent, the range extender will give a level of comfort to anyone with anxieties.
"But I still believe most fleets and leasing companies will be clear about evaluation and application – what they don’t want is re-allocating cars that are not fit for purpose.
“However, BMW is popular with user-chooser fleets and I believe our strength in the sector will give us an edge.
"BMW is probably in the best place to introduce a car like the i3, which represents an opportunity to prospect new customers.
“I know many eyes are focused on how we will bring this car to market and I also know that people are not prepared to pay that much more for sustainable mobility.
"However, our view is that in future, when people think premium they will also think sustainable. We’re confident i3 will come at an attractive price and will be compelling proposition regarding wholelife costs.”