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Monday, August 20, 2012

BMW NA Appoints New Manager of Electric Vehicles

Rich Steinberg plugging in an ActiveE at a 2010 press event in NYC.
BMW just announced that Jacob Harb, BMW North America’s Market Manager, would be taking over for Rich Steinberg as BMW's North American Manager of Electric Vehicle Sales and Strategy, that position has been held by Rich Steinberg for the past four years. Rich will be moving on and taking the post of CEO of the new car sharing program of BMW i called "DriveNow". Initially DriveNow will only operate in San Francisco, and has dispatched 70 ActiveE's for DriveNow already, but the program will expand to include other major cities in the upcoming years.

I've had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Rich in the past three plus years that I have been involved in BMW's electric vehicle program. I give Rich a lot of credit for helping to bring the program to where it is now. There have been a lot of challenges in the MINI-E and ActiveE programs and Rich helped to successfully navigate the program through them. I will miss working with him and wish him the most success possible with his new position. I believe car sharing services like BMW's DriveNow have a very bright future especially in large cities, and I think BMW's decision to be the first luxury brand to launch such a service is a wise one.

I'd like to share the story of the first time I spoke to Rich. It was back in July of 2009 when the MINI-E program first launched. It was a rocky launch to say the least. Back then there was no industry standard for electric vehicle connectors since the J1772 wasn't yet formally adopted and BMW had commissioned ODU to make their connectors for the MINI-E. For reasons beyond BMW's control, ODU delivered the connectors late, and it really made a mess out of the installation process of our wall chargers. Some had the chargers installed without cables and the electricians were then supposed to install the cables at a later date, which should have been no problem. However some of the electrical inspectors didn't like the fact that the wall chargers had a UL listing and the cable and connector had another UL listing. They wanted the whole unit to have the same UL approval and were failing the inspections. I was one of the people caught up in the mess and I had the car, but no way to legally charge it since my charger had a bright red 'fail' sticker on it. I could of course charge the car on 120v, but the MINI-E had a huge 35kWh battery, and would take over 30 hours to charge meaning I could only drive it every other day.

I was upset as was many of the other MINI-E lessees and vented on our MINI-E Facebook page. Then one day I was at work and my cell phone rang and it was Rich on the line. We spoke for about 45 minutes and I made it clear I wasn't happy. The car was very expensive to lease($850/month) and I couldn't use it. Rich took the time to explain everything to me; why the connector was delayed, what the UL listing issue was, why some inspectors are interpreting the code different than others, why they launched the program without the cable issue resolved and then assured me I wouldn't pay anything until my wall charger was inspected and approved and BMW would do everything to make things right. He transformed my anguish to optimism and probably saved me as a BMW customer. I can't imagine how many phone calls like that Rich must have made back then, but I was impressed that he took it upon himself to speak directly to the affected customers and didn't pass it on to someone that reports to him. This in my opinion was the sign of a good leader.

I had an opportunity to talk to Rich recently about this move and he was very enthusiastic about it. Rich likes challenges and he's always volunteered to take on new ventures for BMW. Years ago Rich took the post of Manager of Product Strategy for MINI USA when many thought MINI wouldn't be successful franchise for BMW here in the US, that could have been a real career killer if MINI failed, but instead the brand flourished. He then accepted the position of Manager of Electric Vehicle Sales and Strategy back in 2008 when there were no electric cars anywhere. Who knew at the time if BMW would eventually make and sell electric vehicles as there was still so many hurdles to get past. He's now has led the program to within a year of the launch of BMW's first production EV, the i3 so I guess he see's it as time to move on the the next new(and uncertain!) venture which at the moment is BMW i's car sharing division. I wish him well, and hope our paths cross again sometime in the future. 

Which brings me to the new head of EV Operations and Strategy for BMW NA, Jacob Harb. Jacob was recently BMW's North American Market Manager and before that held the position of advanced planning and strategy manager. He's taking over for Rich at a great time in my opinion. The four years of R&D in the MINI-E and ActiveE programs have given BMW a lot to work with and they have learned plenty, meaning the lions share of the 'dirty work' is done and soon we get to see the results. With the i3 launch about a year away BMW is going to begin to market the car in the coming months. This means Jacob will undoubtedly be in high demand for interviews shortly after he takes over in September. I have never met Jacob, but hopefully will have the opportunity to do so in the near future. As one of the more vocal supporters of BMW's electric vehicle program I hope to continue the same type of professional relationship that Rich and I had with Jacob. There are some great people in BMW's EV program like Peder Norby, Todd Crook, Chris Neff, Michael Thwaite and many others that have been in the program since 2009. We're all anxious to see what Jacob has in store for the program, and are all willing to offer our support if called upon, just as we did for Rich.

Below is a video I made with Rich at the 2011 New York Auto Show. Tom Plucinsky asked Rich and I questions about the ActiveE from a live Facebook Feed. 


6 comments:

  1. This is a crucial time for BMW i. I hope the new guy is up to the task. I prefer stability myself.

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  2. I only met Rich once and it was at a car exhibit here in California. He was very nice and knowledgeable. If Jacob reads this the one thing I'd like to see him do is improve the communication between the Electronauts and BMW. When we have a problem we can't get any answers from service about what is wrong or what they did to fix it. Thats been the only bummer so far the ActiveE is the best car I've ever had

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  3. Tom: I have been following your blogs for a couple years now and have seen you mention Mr Steinberg quite a few times. It is no surprise you share your feelings today on his departure from the electric vehicle program.

    Having spoken to him did you get the sense he was pushed out, perhaps to make way for his replacement? Was there an internal rift?

    The timing seems odd because as you point out he spent four years nurturing the program when BMW did not even have any cars to sell and now that they are on the verge of bringing to market the new e-cars he is being replaced.

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  4. Anonymous: I can't deny I have heard others say they have not been satisfied with the level of information they get but I don't think that is something the EV team herein the US is in control of, I think the powers to be in Munich have a tight lid on what gets conveyed and what doesn't. Remember they are dealing with proprietary equipment that they are hoping will give them a competitive advantage when they bring it to market next year. I'm not agreeing with the idea of holding back service info, I'm just giving a reason why we may now be given all the service info.

    Gerald: I agree ;)

    Wilson: If you are the same Wilson that has been posting since my MINI-E blog days than I would agree you have been following for a while and thank you for that. No I do not think Rich was pushed out at all. I think he saw an opportunity to be the CEO of DriveNow and thought it would be a good move to do so. As I wrote above Rich likes to take on challenges and be the leader of a new venture so this fits his M-O perfectly. I think car sharing programs are going to flourish in city environments and now the time to get in the game.

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  5. A major car manufacturer such as BMW has succeeded thanks to the initiative of its leaders of successfully invest in the electric vehicle market, with manufacturing of various models of success and with the introduction of several innovative technologies.

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