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BMW boss tells the truth about electric cars. And then has to apologise for doing so.

Sun, 01 May 2011

BMW US CEO Jim O'Donnell - "EVs won't work for more than 90% of drivers"

Really, you do have to ask what kind of barking mad world we live in when the boss of a car company is forced to apologise for telling the truth, simply because it upsets a vocal minority (and his bosses, no doubt)

We’ve been banging on for years about how useless electric cars are as a replacement for the internal combustion engine, and how they are really only viable as inner-city runarounds and as toys for the better-off.

Even then, electric cars have their problems. As inner-city cars EVs certainly do the local environment a favour by transferring emissions to the point of electricity generation instead of the point of use.

But the big drawback is recharging. Yes, EVs can be recharged overnight and, for most city dwellers, that’s fine as they’re unlikely to use up the car’s charge in a single day of commuting.

The problem lies with the length of time it takes to charge any EV. It means an overnight plug-in, and therein lies the problem. By definition, inner-city living is about a large number of people living in a small are,. with little or no off-road parking. Which means relying on public charging points. With all the inherent problems that presents, such as lack of numbers, lack of convenience, vandalism…and purchase cost.

For those buying cars away from the city the recharging problems are not a big issue, even if the inability to ever go more than forty miles from home in virtually any electric car is. You may be able to use your EV to pop to the shops or the bank, but that’s it. Not as replacement for an ICE car by any measure, and no prospect it will be in any sane timeframe either. Or cost a similar amount, either.

All of which is pretty much what BMW’s US boss Jim O’Donnel said in an interview earlier this month. He said that from a practical point of view EVs won’t work, and that for more than 90% of the population that won’t change. He also went on to call for the ending of tax subsidies for EVs. We could have written this ourselves.

But now the corporate machine has beaten Jim in to submission, and he’s been forced to apologise. He said:

I sincerely apologize if I have offended the strong network of electric vehicle advocates whose support has been deeply meaningful to us at BMW.

He then went on to backtrack on his call for an ending of taxpayer subsidies for EVs:

It is still too early for governments to pick winners and losers, which is why incentives should be aimed at a range of innovative actions that can meet diverse needs, rather than only one or two technologies. This is what I was trying to convey with my comments — consumers are smart enough to decide the best vehicle for their particular needs, so if incentives are applied, we should be mindful of market dynamics.

All of which means he still believes what he said, but with BMW about to launch a range of electric cars he’s had to come out and lick a few boots. Which is a shame. We’d have no problem with EVs if car makers came out and told the truth. Just as Jim O’Donnel has. We just can’t stand the implication an EV is a replacement for an ICE car.

Even if an EV has won world car of the year.

By Cars UK