When BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer announced last year that “What the mobile phone did for communication, electric mobility will do for individual mobility” and board member Peter Schwarzenbauer proclaimed that “never before has the BMW Group been so proud to present a car to the world” at the i3 launch, we weren’t skeptical, per say, merely unsurprised. What else would you expect a company that’s invested billions into a pair of new electric cars—the i3 and the i8—to say? A year on, BMW has assured us that the i cars are “selling well,” but that may not be the case in Germany.
According to a report by kfz-betrieb, a newspaper that keeps extremely close ties to the car dealers in Germany, the i3 isn’t faring as well in its home market as it is abroad. After nine months of sales, dealers have sold just half of the vehicles they were told to move. Those figures even include sales delivered during the i3’s initial hype; a dealer who requested anonymity for fear of repercussions has said that the honeymoon period is most definitely over.
Dealers have been able to sell 1900 units since the beginning of the year, a third of which came with the optional gasoline-fueled range extender, says kfz-betrieb. That’s woefully short of the 5000 to 6000 units the 43 German “i agents” are supposed to sell before the end of the year. This September has been the most disappointing month so far, with only 131 i3s finding new homes. BMW is blaming long shipping times of up to six months for the weak sales. “Dealers say they could sell more cars than allocated,” Reithofer recently claimed, but as Kfz-betrieb notes: “He did not say which dealers.”
Internal bickering aside, BMW is resorting to unconventional tactics to jumpstart sales and offering prospective German customers an i3 for €555 ($692) a month. That price includes a full collision waiver and a whopping 3333 kilometer (2071 miles) allotment. If the customer bites and outright purchases the car, the original fees are reimbursed. It’s an interesting approach, one that nicely avoids traditional incentive measures like cash on the hood, and we’ll be watching to see how it shakes out—who knows, if a similar sales dilemma befalls BMW in other markets where the i3 is sold, this strategy could someday escape Germany.