Maneuvering Change

BMW's Harald Krüger plans dramatic e-car growth

In the future, we'll plug and play. Source: DPA

German carmakers have long been accused of failing to invest enough in the production of eco-friendly electric cars and instead have committed too many assets to diesel-engine vehicles that are losing popularity because of pollution. But luxury carmaker BMW says the company is ramping up production of electric and hybrid cars, with double-digit growth expected next year.

“By the end of 2019 we will have 500,000 electrified vehicles on the road,” BMW Chief Executive Harald Krüger told Handelsblatt’s sister publication WirtschaftsWoche. BMW uses the phrase “electrified vehicles” to refer to fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars. In 2018, BMW will increase sales in the mid-double-digit percentage range compared to 2017, he said.

Mr. Krüger said BMW, which produced about 100,000 hybrid and electric vehicles in 2017, was now the second largest e-vehicle maker in the world and the largest among established automakers, an apparent reference to America’s Tesla Motors. But the Renault-Nissan alliance sold more e-vehicles than Tesla, according to company reports.

“We were early, and we are now in the lead,” he said. And while 100,000 e-vehicles is impressive, the company sold more than 2 million cars in 2017, putting “electrified vehicle sales” at less than 5 percent of the total.

“We were early, and we are now in the lead.”

Harald Krüger, BMW CEO

Unlike the CEO of Volkswagen, Matthias Müller, who called on the German government to stop subsidizing diesel cars with a tax break on fuel, Mr. Krüger told WirtschaftsWoche that the company needs both electric and combustion-engine cars.

“I think abolishing the diesel subsidy would be wrong,” Mr. Kruger said. “We are in the middle of a transformation into the electric age. The profits from the sale of combustion engine vehicles give us the necessary room to maneuver.”

Diesel cars caused a scandal when it was discovered that VW fitted its vehicles with software that allowed them to pass emissions tests, but produced high amounts of pollutants when driven on normal roads. VW pleaded guilty to breaking environmental laws in the US and paid $16 billion in fines and civil settlements.

Mr. Krüger continues to push back against claims by a German environmental group that BMW also cheated on emissions testing. “We do not cheat. I’ve said that over and over, and it still applies,” he said. He believes the group’s testing of BMW diesels were likely “forced driving situations that make up only a fraction of the typical driving behavior of our customers.”

BMW diesels not only comply with European standards, but emissions were about 40 percent lower than the permitted levels in diesel exhausts, he continued.

Meanwhile the company is conducting an internal investigation to determine if there was any collusion with other carmakers at BMW. The European Union is also looking at meetings that took place among German carmakers to coordinate diesel technology to see if they violated antitrust laws.

Mr. Krüger insisted that automakers need to continue to cooperate on technical matters for such things as a standard for recharging station plugs so that each manufacturer doesn’t have to have its own network of e-filling stations.

A version of this article originally appeared in Handelsblatt’s sister publication WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author:

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