BMW expanding i retailer network

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BMW Canada is increasing the number of dealers selling the i sub-brand after giving the option to the rest of the network in Q4 last year.

Kevin Marcotte, national manager for BMW i, told Canadian AutoWorld that “a few dealers” indicated they were willing to make the investment in tools, training, charging infrastructure and showroom requirements to add the electric units to their lots.

The current stable of 15 BMW i retailers in Canada sold 523 units in 2016 down slightly from the 531 sold in 2015. Marcotte, who didn’t confirm exactly how many or where the new points would be added this year, said the investment to add i is in the “six-figure” range for dealers.

Exactly what those dealers will be selling beyond the i3 and i8, however, remains the true mystery.

BMW’s official story has been that a forthcoming i model will hit the market in 2021 dubbed iNext. Since making the announcement there has been loads of speculation online and in print about iNext and what segment it would compete in.

The automaker officially has confirmed it would be a larger and “highly innovative” model that will spearhead BMW i moving forward. It will also be self-driving, electric and fully connected.

Somewhat more unofficial was the info coming from the U.K. automotive publication Auto Express in February. Its website said it had an exclusive interview with BMW board member Ian Robertson in which he revealed that iNext would arrive badged as the i5 and take a number of design cues from BMW’s Vision Next 100 Concept.

The model would sit between the 3 Series and 5 Series and be aimed squarely at the forthcoming Tesla Model 3.

The magazine said the car would usher in a new approach to interior space and design thanks in large part to new battery technology.

“I think the iNext phase will have much stronger volume proportions behind it. If the next generation of batteries are smaller, thinner and with no wet and sticky stuff inside them – they’re solid state – then they can be packaged much easier,” Robertson told the magazine.

Official confirmation has yet to come from the automaker, but Marcotte said BMW retailers can look forward to more than just iNext in the coming years as the i8 roadster will begin Canadian sales in early 2018 followed by an electric MINI in 2019 and a purely electric-powered BMW X3 in 2020.

BMW also has a major focus on plug-in hybrids that is yielding success worldwide. He said every BMW Canada retailer is now iPerformance ready meaning it can retail the four plug-in hybrids in the lineup (3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series and X5).

“We will see an iPerformance model in every successive new model launch moving forward, meaning you’ll eventually see plug-in hybrid capability in every model in the lineup,” Marcotte said.

“That’s really a bridge between fully electric and internal combustion. It’s a foot in the water for consumers that might not be one of those early adopters that want to take that plunge.”

While some analysts and journalists have critical of BMW for being slow to add electric models after strong starts with i3 and i8, the facts don’t really support that narrative.

Since its market launch in November 2013, BMW Group delivered more than 100,000 electric cars and plug-in hybrids to customers worldwide.

BMW i3 alone has reached a figure of more than 60,000 units, making it the most successful electric vehicle in the premium compact segment. BMW i8 ranks first among electrified sports cars, with more than 10,000 delivered since the middle of 2014.