BMW unveils ‘i’ sub-brand

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By John Reed in Munich

Published: February 21 2011 15:03 | Last updated: February 21 2011 18:18

BMW has announced the creation of a sub-brand devoted to “sustainability” and said it had established a unit for mobility services.

The industry’s largest luxury car producer said on Monday that its “BMW i” marque would launch its first two vehicles – an electric city car and a rechargeable hybrid car – in 2013.

BMW will invest about €400m ($547m) to make them at its plant in Leipzig.

BMW said it was establishing a New York-based venture capital company called iVentures to invest in providers of location-based and other “premium mobility” services.

The fund will be capitalised at up to $100m.

The company said it was launching the sub-brand in response to changing customer needs, including demand in congested megacities for the ability to mix and match different kinds of transport.

“Mobility” has become a buzzword among carmakers as they seek to capitalise on the opportunities from electric cars, car-sharing schemes, and the growing convergence of cars and mobile communications.

BMW i’s services will include parking solutions, navigation systems with local information, and route planning.

It intends to make a profit from these “premium services”, which could draw new customers.

“Some people are interested in having more flexibility when it comes to driving cars,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of marketing, said.

“The logic is simple: I’ll pay for it when I want to use it. ”

BMW had until now focused on reducing carbon dioxide emissions in its conventional petrol and diesel cars under its Efficient Dynamics programme.

The German producer and its rivals are launching electric and rechargeable hybrid cars powered by lithium-ion batteries, in spite of doubts voiced about how many people will buy them because of their higher price and limited driving range.

Toyota in January said it was building a family of cars around its Prius hybrid model.

BMW’s forthcoming electric car, the i3, and the hybrid i8 will have lightweight bodies composed of an aluminium chassis and a passenger cell made of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic.

The company said use of the material would offset almost entirely the weight of the batteries.

Mr Robertson told the Financial Times the electric car would be sold at a “premium” price higher than the €30,000 to €40,000 which early plug-in cars such as Nissan’s leaf and General Motors’ Chevrolet Volt sell, before government tax incentives.

“It will be more than that,” he said.

He declined to say how many of the cars BMW expected to sell.

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