BMW CEO Apologizes For Disparaging Plug-ins

By · April 28, 2011


Yesterday, BMW North American Chairman and CEO Jim O'Donnell was quoted in the Detroit News as saying—among other things—that electric vehicles “won't work” for more than 90 percent of the population. Today, O'Donnell was forced to issue an apology, reaffirming his company's commitment to plug-ins.

Read the full letter below:

BMW's Support for Electric Vehicles

On April 18th, I had a conversation reported in the Detroit News that has caused a great deal of concern over the past week. I realize I could have been clearer in my comments and I sincerely apologize if I have offended the strong network of electric vehicle advocates whose support has been deeply meaningful to us at BMW.

First I want to stress I am 100% behind our company’s plans to design, develop, lease and sell electric vehicles. We are confident we are on the right path with the range and flexibility of the all-new BMW ActiveE and the forthcoming BMW i3.

We also understand that we are a country of diverse living and driving conditions and that electric vehicles may not be the natural choice for all drivers, many of whom will want to choose other advanced technology vehicles. That’s why BMW Group is investing in the broadest possible range of future innovation – gas and diesel engines that significantly improve performance, cleanliness and efficiency; hybrids; BEVs, and even hydrogen. We strongly believe all these technologies have a role to play in a sustainable future.

In this context, 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.

I am sorry for the confusion and concern I have caused. While I clearly should have chosen my words more carefully, rest assured, BMW is fully behind electric vehicles and all of the ongoing innovation in this area. We live in a diverse world and our company is working very hard on meeting the needs of our wide range of customers all over the world.




· · 7 years ago

Yes, it's the old "foot in mouth" syndrome. I was once in a sales meeting, and the company sales rep said, "Last year's version was terrible, but we fixed it for this release." I'm sure everyone was thinking, "You sold us junk last year?".

· Joe - San Antonio, TX (not verified) · 7 years ago

It seems as though BMW is making junk cars as of late. My family's '02 X5 was a horrible 1 gen with a list of issues over the course of its life. So in '09 we bought the X5 35d (diesel) and this new X5 still have a list of horrible problems, some of which are automatic tail gate opened when we come out from a dinner out, white salt like fluid leaking out of the engine (2nd time in 5 months), BMW dealership crews not knowing how to service their diesel properly and passing you around between dealerships when it breaks down OUT OF TOWN! Way to run your company into stupidity BMW.

· jerry (not verified) · 7 years ago

I have an x5 wirh 148,000 miles and have never had a single problem with it but that's not the topic we're discussing here.
I wonder how this came about. I'm sure his bosses in Germany got tired of reading headlines of his recent comments and said enough is enough, go out there and set this straight.

· · 7 years ago

I would give almost anything to buy an Electric Mini, and this guy says crap like they will not work. Hell I have been driving an EV with a range only half as good as a Mini EV and I have been making it work for 5 years now.

How did that guy get to be CEO anyhow ?


· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

I'm surprised it took BMW so long to reign this guy in. He's been a public relations nightmare for them since the Detroit show. Worst thing you can have is conflicting messages from high level executives.

· · 7 years ago

Well, is it really conflicting messages or is he telling the real thinking.

I'd argue, no more than 10% of the people are willing to give EVs a chance. They don't want to live with the limitations.

Let us try this example. Everyone knows eating healthy is important. It even affects them personally (compared to EVs vs ICE). But how many live within the confines of healthy eating ?

· · 7 years ago

The guy is a hack for diesel.

· · 7 years ago

He's probably telling HIS real thinking. He's likely an old-school mechanical guy who will be obsolete if electric vehicles become the norm because he won't know how to make decisions. As an executive, that can be disastrous to a career he's clawed his way up to.
You're right that today, no more than 10% of people are willing to give EVs a chance. They are afraid of the 'limitations'. Also, there are only 3 choices available to them and those choices only represent a small set of the kinds of vehicles that people need or want today.
If 10% get EVs today and more vehicle styles come out with an EV drivetrain, the number of people who see those 10% as the whizz by the gas stations and realize that an EV that meets their needs is available, that number will grow.
In the early 1980's less than 10% of people were willing to give personal computers a chance. In the early 1990's, less than 10% of people were willing to give cellphones a chance. Good ideas take off.

· · 7 years ago

ex has really touched on a point that needs to be discussed more:

>Also, there are only 3 choices available to them and those choices only represent a small set of the kinds of vehicles that people need or want today.<

That to me is the most under-discussed topic when people discuss how the public is going to embrace electric cars. Up until recently there were NO reasonable electric car choices, only tiny souped up golf carts called NEV's. That perception is hard for many people to break free from. Then came along Tesla and created an awesome car, but let's face it, 99.99% of the population will never sniff the leather of a Tesla so to many folks it's just an incredibly expensive toy, not useful transportation to be taken seriously.

Now there is an EV that is slowly becoming available, really the first one in our time. There are still only hundreds of them out there, and again 99.99% of the population have never even seen one driving around. EV's are still so foreign to most everybody that they simply cannot imagine them selves driving in one, let alone buying one. So sure, today maybe less than 10% of the population would want to buy one. It's going to take people like us and the other early adopters to buy them and drive them around proudly, and to talk to our friends and family about them, and to take the time to stop for a few minutes when a stranger asks you about your LEAF to tell them about how great it is.

Then, as more more EV models come out and there are more choices, more and more people will start to consider them, especially if they know someone that was an early adopter and has great things to say about his EV.

The problem I had with Jim's comments is that they were HIS thoughts, and not that of BMW AG (I know this from intimate personal experience), and even though he would say that when he was interviewed, the press would still run the headline that "BMW CEO says EV's won't work" and that is damaging to the BMW brand, and the reason I assume he was "encouraged" to clarify his previous statements to the media. Perhaps he realized he'll be long retired by the time electric cars become widely accepted, so he doesn't want to spend time on them, but the brainturst in Germany understands that they need do develop a strong EV & plug in hybrid program to compete in years to come, and are doing that with the new i division.

· · 7 years ago

I don't see a problem with saying that EVs won't work for more than 90% of the population. My first question is, which way was it meant?

There's two ways to look at "won't work for more than 90%":

1). More than 90% of population has travel needs that EVs won't work for


2). The greatest portion of the population that can use EVs is not more than 90%.

· Igotone (not verified) · 7 years ago

Thats a very interesting observation that the BMW exec said when BMW is betting the farm on electrics and hybrids. It stands in contrast to the concept Megacity vehicle that BMW is investing a large chunk of RnD behind the scenes. They've already bought factory space for making carbon fiber car bodies for whatever the car will look like. I'm thinking this BMW guys going to be swabbing the floors in his building soon.....

· · 7 years ago

His apology is a bunch of BS. Jim O'Donnell has been dissing EVs, and the BMW EV strategy, for a long time. For example, months ago I posted what O'Donnell was saying at the Washington Auto Show on this website.

Well here's what Jim O'Donnell, President, BMW NA said at the Washington Auto Show.

"After 15 years, hybrid market share is just 3%. Hybrids will grow, but not hugely. Hybrids don't have the potential to grow because they're too expensive. Electric cars are a niche. Electric cars can only be sold in major cities. There's no point in living in the country and having an electric car. The Obama administration's projections on electric cars are optimistic to say the least. There's a lot of hype around electric cars. They are very expensive. Consumers are not putting their hands up and saying they want them. Expectation for our MegaCity are not huge because consumers are tightening their purses and they aren't sure they want to pay that for a car that goes 100 miles."

Clearly he's biased against electric cars. It's interesting that a luxury auto OEM is focusing so much on cost, really? BMW, Honda, Toyota, etc are all playing the wait and see. BMW is far more focused on bringing diesels to the US versus EVs.

· · 7 years ago

@indyflick · "Clearly he's biased against electric cars."

I think Jim O'Donnell is saying exactly what they really say in BMW board. I'd take this as the real thinking within BMW and everything else that comes out of BMW about EVs as just green washing. We have known for sometime that mini-E etc. are pure CARB plays by BMW. So this is not surprising.

· · 7 years ago

EVNow: I know you have your own opinions about what BMW's EV plans are really all about and only in time will you be vindicated or proven wrong, but I can assure you Jim's thoughts on electric cars aren't shared by the majority of management and the board of directors at BMW in Munich.

You certainly don't have to take my word for it, but I'm wouldn't make such a strong statement if I didn't know for sure what I was saying. Sorry If I cannot elaborate further.

That being said, there is nobody that I know of, in any other major OEM that is as bullish on electric cars as the CEO of the company you purchased a car from. Mr Ghosn is a tremendous ally in the push to advance electric cars and really deserves a lot of credit, as does Tesla motors.

· · 7 years ago

@Tom Moloughney, I've never read the CEOs of Nissan nor Tesla disparage electric cars. Seems like those manufactures CEOs and boards are all singing off the same sheet of music. In addition, both Nissan as well as Tesla allow customers to actually purchase their electric cars and not pull the lease only crap like we see from BMW. With lease only we all know what happens to those electric cars at the end of their lease. I'm in EVNow's camp, smells like green washing.

· · 7 years ago

indy: You guys aren't the only ones that have that opinion for sure. Jim's comments would really make anyone a bit skeptical.

>we all know what happens to those electric cars at the end of their lease<

Just wondering though, do you know what happened to all the MINI-E's that went back at the end of their leases last June? You might be surprised :)

· · 7 years ago

@Tom Moloughney, "Just wondering though, do you know what happened to all the MINI-E's that went back at the end of their leases last June? You might be surprised :)"

I think you've previously said they've all been refurbished and re-leased in other countries including Russia and China. But why not just sell them? Why the lease only crap?

You know, when I was a kid I had a dog that got really sick. One day I came home from school and my dog was gone. But luckily it turned out my dad told me he took my dog to a farm and also, according to my father, the farmer would be nursing my dog back to health! So I guess it is possible those Mini E's will live a long healthy life with a lovely Chinese farmer. We can only hope!

· · 7 years ago

They were re-leased in Berlin, Munich, France, Japan and the UK so far, and soon they are going to China for sure, possibly Russia and other countries. One of the purposes of these cars was to introduce EV's to markets that have never seen them and to gauge the public's reception, as well as begin a dialog with the local power utilities there and try to get a grip on the different infrastructure issues that different markets present.

They are gathering data from each car at 5,000 mile intervals(we have to bring them in for downloads) to see how many miles per charge that people average, how frequently do they charge (every day, every other day). Do they charge at 220v all the time or slow charge at 110v overnight. Different geographical areas bring different results and show what the range demand may be in all these different markets.

Plus, with no thermal management they really shouldn't sell them. Personally I think they may have built them intentionally without any real thermal management to see just how bad it would be in extreme temperatures.

This plus all the feedback they got from the people leasing them was all used to develop the i3. None of the mechanical parts in the MINI-E will be used in the i3, but just about all the parts in the ActiveE is the actual hardware that will be in the i3. So that's the purpose of the ActiveE, to test the newly developed power electronics, motor and nickel-manganese-cobalt cells that were developed just for this car and they "claim" have 3 to 5% better energy density than any other battery currently on the market.

Personally I like their methodical approach to bringing an EV to market. Sure I wish it would come sooner, but as I was told by a high level BMW executive, they typically have a 5 to 7 year gestation period for a new vehicle. BMW decided in 2008 that they were going to build and sell and EV so they actually fast-tracked the i3 and are bringing it to market in only 5 years. They believe the only way to go with electric cars is to purpose-build them and focus on weight reduction, aerodynamics and efficiency. That is why they won't retro-fit and existing platform and sell it. I was told that the BMW engineers look at the MINI-E and the ActiveE and cringe, because all of the compromises they need to make to stuff the electric drivetrain in what was designed to be an ICE vehicle.

I know that's not going to be enough to satisfy a lot of people, and they will continue to call it greenwashing, and I have no problem with that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and in fact I like hearing what others have to say.

I will say this though, BMW has allowed me and the other MINI-E pioneers to get off gasoline, and stay off gasoline forever since June 2009. We have a clear, uninterrupted path from the MINI-E to the ActiveE to purchase the 2013 i3 or any other EV available then, and there will be many. I know it is only a small amount of people, but no other major automaker took any of their customers off gasoline for good in 2009.

My experiences living with the MINI-E are the reason I'm here trying to help "spread the word" and I thank BMW for giving me that opportunity :)

· jerry (not verified) · 7 years ago

I don't blame BMW at all for taking their time on the i3. I would prefer this over rushing and building an inferior product, but the CEO's comments do concern me. Hopefully his clarification is evidence that his noses don't share his pessimistic views.

· jerry (not verified) · 7 years ago

Bosses. Sorry

· · 7 years ago

@Tom "..only in time will you be vindicated or proven wrong, but I can assure you Jim's thoughts on electric cars aren't shared by the majority of management and the board of directors at BMW in Munich"

As you can probably guess, in this case I'd rather be proven wrong than right.

It is not surprsing that within any company there would be a lot differences. Sometimes we need visionaries like Ghosn, Musk or Lutz who put their personal weight and reputation behind what looks to be a risky decision.

Funny thing is 10% of the market is actually a substantial number - in the US that would be more than 1 Million cars a year. So, there is nothing wrong with what Jim said - but just the way he said it is not useful neither to the EV cause nor to BMW. Afterall Ghosn has said EVs will have 10% marketshare in 10 years and everyone thinks he is being optimistic !

· · 7 years ago

But his comment "electric vehicles “won't work” for more than 90 percent of the population" is with regards to their functionality not a comment on potential market share. These are very different concepts. If the average commute in the US is 33 miles round trip, how's it possible the LEAF, with far more range than that, "won't work"? What is it about the LEAF technology which "won't work" for 90 percent of the population? Oh and by the way, the LEAF owners now have empirical data that the LEAF will work for even much longer commutes than 33 miles round trip. In fact, I would say Jimbo has it backwards, the LEAF will work for more than 90% of the population!

· · 7 years ago


Yes, the marketshare comment and the "won't work" are quite different. But as I said, it is really a question of framing. In a recent survey (Nielson's ?) only 3% said they are seriously considering EVs. So, that is % who think EVs wil work for them. Rest think they won't.

As to what % EVs actually work is not an easy question. Afterall people don't buy cars to make them work for their "average" drive. They would want the cars to be able to handle a very large majority of their transportation needs.

· · 7 years ago

Well, the last paragraph apparently got left out in my earlier post.

Given that 60% of American families have multiple cars, I always tell people that they should replace one of their cars with an EV. i.e. target EVs for families rather than individuals. Detractors always talk about individuals (and thus questions like, what do you do when you have to go far or only good for a "second" car etc). We should remind them that the target, for the most part, is a family.

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