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Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Cars Were The Electronauts Driving Before They Leased Their ActiveE?

That's me driving along the highway in my MINI-E
It all started as a harmless question that Rick Oh posted on the ActiveE Facebook group page: "What were you driving before you got your ActiveE?" Simple enough right? Well sure, but it's probably not that simple for the automakers. In fact, I'm sure they spend millions to try to figure out where their customers for a new model will come from. Will they cannibalize their existing product line or can they take customers from competing brands? This is especially true for electric cars. Manufacturers have an opportunity to engage customers that were loyal to other brands if they offer the plug-in package that the customer wants and their preferred brand isn't offering.

So after the post got some answers, John Voelcker from High Gear Media (John is also a member of our ActiveE group even though he doesn't drive an ActiveE) decided to write a story on this topic for That was about a month ago. Now, Horatiu Boeriu the editor (and owner) of BMWBLOG also put up a post on his site posing the same question. Both posts received a good amount of attention and comments so this is obviously a topic that people are interested in.

I was obviously driving a MINI-E before the ActiveE, so I would then have to look back to what I got rid of when I leased the MINI-E to properly answer the question. That would be a Mercedes ML430 SUV. Yes, I confess I was a wasteful gasoline burner. Ninety-nine percent of the time I was driving alone in this huge SUV and getting about 17mpg. I really didn't need the utility of that size of the vehicle, I just liked it so I bought it. Back then I really didn't consider the efficiency or environmental impact of a the cars I purchased, and not many people really did here in the States. Times have changed though, for me personally and for many consumers. Environmental impact and sustainability is an important consideration for many more people now then it was ten or fifteen years ago, and I believe that trend will continue and even become more relevent. BMW evidently believes this also and recently Uli Kranz, the head of BMW’s sub-brand BMW i was quoted in an article in Forbes saying: “Sustainability is a very important point for us, because we believe that in the future, premium will be more defined with sustainability".

So I sold my Mercedes SUV to make room for my MINI-E, what about the others? Well it turns out that not many of them traded in or sold a BMW. There were definitely a few, but not as many as I expected to see. The ActiveE wasn't necessarily as much about brand loyalty as it was about offering electric drive. There was a pretty good spread of vehicles from Audi's to Toyota's, some being SUV's and quite a few hybrids mixed in there also. So I think there is definitely a great opportunity for BMW to expand their customer base if they deliver with the i brand. There are high expectations though, and the i3 cannot be just another plug-in car with leather seats and 'premium' features. It needs to be what BMW is billing it to be, and that's a groundbreaking vehicle. It needs to set a new standard in efficiency by incorporating the Life-Drive platform and being the first mass produced vehicle to have a passenger compartment made entirely of CFRP. It also needs to deliver the performance expected of a BMW, in other words it must be fun to drive. Highly efficient and a blast to drive - in my opinion that's what the i3 needs to deliver or it will fall short of expectations and most likely sales goals. If it does deliver the goods, then I think BMW can expect to add quite a few first-time BMW buyers to their portfolio.

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