Tesla Motors, the electric car maker from Silicon Valley, grabbed headlines last April when its chief executive Elon Musk announced plans to build batteries able to power an entire household.
Nine months later, BMW, the world’s biggest maker of luxury cars, is following in Tesla’s footsteps, German business magazine WirtschaftsWoche and Handelsblatt have learned.
“We want to build up new business in the power storage market,” a senior manager from BMW told WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt.
BMW is planning to sell new and used batteries, which are also found in BMW’s e-car model i3, later this year to wholesale customers, said the manager, who declined to be named.
“In the medium term, SMA anticipates global annual demand of approximately €0.5 billion to €1.2 billion for all storage applications.”
The batteries would be able to supply an entire household with electricity or load an electric car.
A BMW spokesman confirmed the news to Handelsblatt, saying the BMW batteries could be used in combination with solar power panels to store electricity for domestic use.
Tesla Motors, founded in 2003, launched its first fully electric car in 2008 and is increasingly seen as a rival to big automakers in Germany, which have failed so far to sell hybrid or electric cars on a large scale like Toyota’s Prius model.
With the risk of Tesla becoming a new leader in the e-car and battery storage markets, German carmakers have all increased their electric driving and power storage efforts.
In Germany, battery storage is seen as a growth market because of the increase in electricity generation by solar and wind power plants. A growing number of German households have solar panels on their roofs.
German firm SMA Solar Technology on Monday announced plans to start selling a power inverter for high-voltage batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall in March. “In the medium term, SMA anticipates global annual demand of approximately €0.5 billion to €1.2 billion for all storage applications,” the company said in a statement.
To tap the home battery market, Daimler last May also announced plans to sell energy storage equipment and has already sold its first 50 units. Daimler produces the batteries, which are also used in Daimler’s city, electrically-powered E-Smart car, together with German utility EnBW.
Audi and Porsche, VW’s luxury and sports car brands, will also expand business in the electric car market and announced plans to produce rapid charging stations.
“We will need them,” VW chief executive Matthias Müller told WirtschaftsWoche. “We still have to work out whether we’ll do it on our own or in a consortium.”
Despite Germany’s goal to bring 1 million e-cars on the road by 2020, German consumers are slow to buy electric vehicles, partly due to a lack of power stations across the country and the relatively low mileage achieved by e-cars compared with gas- or diesel-powered cars.
The German car industry has urged the government to come with subsidies or other measures to boost e-car demand. Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to give an update of her e-car strategy next month and the government could announce new measures. Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel favoured a buyer’s premium last week.
BMW’s push to sell batteries for private use could help unlock the e-car market as it enables car owners to power their cars with their own solar panels. The battery is expected to cost a mid four-digit sum, comparing with around $3,000 Tesla charges for its entry-level package.
In Germany, 1.5 million households have solar power panels on their roofs, but only 30,000 own batteries to store the electricity, numbers from the German Solar Association show. The home battery market is expected to grow by 20 to 30 percent annually the next five years, according to the association.
BMW’s home battery offensive comes in addition to an already existing business of reusing old car batteries and combining them to build large storage facilities for solar and wind power plants. BMW cooperates with U.S. renewable electricity specialist Nextera and the first storage facilities are expected to go live in a couple of weeks.
This project is still at an early stage. “We are looking for a strategic partner,” BMW said.
Rebecca Eisert is a correspondent for German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche. Franz Hubik is a correspondent for Handelsblatt, covering renewable energy. Gilbert Kreijger of Handelsblatt Global Edition also contributed to this story. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com