News emerged only yesterday that BMW had canceled plans to launch the BMW iX3 in the United States. But Automotive News reported that BMW had already decided to kill US sales of the iX3 in January at dealers meeting in Boca Raton, if not earlier. BMW executives and dealers deemed the all-electric iX3 as a dud before it reached our shores.
Why? Its 74-kilowatt-hour battery pack is considered by Americans to be too small.
The decision, according to Automotive News, is based on Americans’ bigger-is-better views on EV driving range. European and Chinese buyers are okay with a battery-powered vehicle using a 74-kilowatt-hour pack — providing perhaps around 200 miles of range in real-world driving. The iX3 will still be sold in China — and in Europe, where automakers need to sell more EVs to meet strict CO2 regulations.
It’s a guessing game to pinpoint how the EPA might have rated the iX3’s range. But BMW didn’t want to take that chance.
EV fans blasted Audi when the inefficient e-tron received a 204-mile official number. And the Audi e-tron has a 95kWh pack. The Audi electric SUV has not been a big seller, and neither has the Jaguar i-Pace with its 90kWh pack.
BMW dealers didn’t want to repeat what they perceived as the same mistake with its 74kWh luxury crossover. Automotive News reported:
Unless the vehicle has a range of at least 300 miles, “it’s not worth bringing to the table,” said one [BMW] retailer who asked not to be identified.
Analysts quoted by Automotive News backed up the sentiment — although reducing the bogey from 300 to about 250 miles. Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Navigant Research, told the trade publication:
To be competitive, you really want to have closer to at least 240 to 250 miles of EPA range. Anything less than that, and I think you’re going to be struggling in the marketplace.
The BMW iX3 will be produced in China. And from the beginning, the battery was sized for Chinese buyers. Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions, explained that long range is not a priority for Chinese consumers. But Americans are different. He said:
Why push a vehicle with limited appeal into North America only to come up short next to a Tesla Model Y or Ford Mustang Mach-E?
Not only do Americans want a driving range that they seldom use, but US consumers also want all-wheel-drive that rarely gets taken off suburban roadways. The iX3 is planned to launch only with rear-wheel-drive. Fiorani said:
With better batteries and all-wheel drive, the next generation [of BMW EVs] would make a proper entry into this very competitive segment.
Apparently, from the time of that January meeting of BMW dealers in Florida, the focus shifted to the i4, which was officially unveiled last week.
With its sleeker, aerodynamic coupe styling and an 80kWh battery, the i4 has the range and appeal that the iX3 lacked, according to BMW. The company claims that the electric sedan will achieve a range of 600 km (373 miles) based on WLTP — with real-world range, perhaps around 300 miles.
Last month, we posted about how those BMW dealers meeting in Boca Raton got excited about the i4. Shaun Bugbee, executive VP of operations for BMW North America, said that it’s been hard to get BMW dealers outside of California to get excited about EVs and PHEVs. But a bigger-battery electric sedan would have broad national appeal. Bugbee said:
We need the entire [US] network to have that perspective because it can’t just be a California solution.
Unfortunately, the i4 doesn’t go into production until the end of 2021. It will soon be followed by the iNext, finally delivering on a BMW electric crossover for US consumers. Another dealer quoted by Automotive News summed it up:
With the two longer-range models coming, we don’t need the limited range, rear-wheel drive iX3 right now.
You can look at BMW nixing US sales of the iX3 as a miscalculation of US demand. But if an automaker’s dealers are not fully on board, a new EV has no chance of success.
In one sense, the BMW iX3 was dead-before-arrival as soon as the company decided on a 74kWh battery pack.
It’s not a popular viewpoint, but another factor inhibiting EV adoption is Americans’ supersize-it mentality when it comes to driving range. If a new EV doesn’t go about 250 miles on a single charge, it’s a nonstarter. It’s that view, expressed by BMW dealers, that killed US sales of the iX3.
So reset the clock for the next BMW EV. Late 2021 and counting.
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