Blog: Dave LeggettIntegrated transport, BMW i and an awkward elephant

Dave Leggett | 18 June 2012

Ian Robertson framed by i3 and i Pedelec

Ian Robertson framed by i3 and i Pedelec

I heard a lot last week about the future of transportation around cities at a Frost & Sullivan event in London. The talk was of integrated journey modes, smart/green cities, personal mobility assistants on phones and new mobility business models (especially car sharing – in the corporate as well as private consumer area). The technology is here now, it's a question of how it will be applied and what can be delivered to best meet market needs in the context of business models that can work.

I was also at the BMW press conference on London's prestigious Park Lane to launch the first BMW 'i' brand showroom. Four things stuck:

  1. The electric i3 car concept – which BMW claimed is 90% there for the production model – is very futuristic. It will be a head turner if the final look is that close, a premium electric car that looks like it has come off a sci-fi film set.
  2. BMW's 'holistic 360' approach to electric vehicles sounds deceptively simple but is actually rather clever. Through the extensive work with triallists under the Mini E trials of a while back, BMW learned much about e-vehicle users' real-world behaviours and concerns. They took all the difficult questions, the uncertainties and turned them around to 'what can we provide to alleviate the concerns?' For example, the electric i3 will come with assurance services (things like rapid charge provision if the battery is exhausted), a BMW-provided charging wallbox and a solution for the problem of requiring an occasional car for long trips ('flexible mobility' package).
  3. The BMW electrically assisted bicycle – the 'i pedelec' – attracted a fair bit of interest at the press conference. Some 200 will be in the London Olympics fleet, but it has not yet got the go-ahead to go into commercial production. There's a neat packaging opportunity for the i3 (it is designed to fold and fit the vehicle, enabling you to drive close to destination and then remove the pedelec to complete the 'last mile'), but I thought it may well be a useful addition in its own right to the typical BMW showroom to introduce the i brand, reinforce green credentials. It is claimed that the battery on the pedelec can take you up to 33 miles and has a maximum speed of 15.5mph. BMW appears to have spent some money on this and I can't believe it won't get the nod.
  4. BMW's sales and marketing board member Ian Robertson made a very good point about CO2 and how a car company like BMW needs to plan for all contingencies going forward. It needs to have products that meet varied global market requirements – in powertrain that means having good gasoline, diesel, hybrids and electric vehicle offerings. The term 'flexible response' springs to mind. And the current apparent apathy in the market for expensively priced electric vehicles? Robertson pointed out that the direction for the global auto industry long-term is one-way: delivering lower average CO2 (in use). In that sense, the regulators around the world, rather than consumers, may therefore be the significant initial driver.

Anyway, it was all interesting stuff, but there is, where electric transportation is concerned, an awkward elephant in the room. Yes folks, how is the electrical current coming out of the socket being generated? In Scandinavia, for example, it may be mainly hydro-electric, and wind turbines are going up everywhere, but there's a fair amount of burning hydrocarbons going on here in the UK. Simply pushing the CO2 from the tailpipe to the power station? To be fair to the auto industry, that's a big question for the energy sector, politicians and voters and it is one that I expect will be a growing subject of public debate in the coming years as electric vehicles inevitably grow in numbers.

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