Before we drove the i4, we were wondering how BMW would retain that fun-to-drive DNA with an EV. Of course, your engineers have been successful in doing so. But prior to driving the car yourself, did you share that same concern – since fun-to-drive is such a strong part of the brand?
Absolutely. Being a complete petrolhead, I’ve always been in awe of how BMW engineers put together a product. It’s not about zero-to-sixty; it’s about how they go around corners. So, five or six years ago, when we heard about BMW getting more aggressive in the EV space, this was obviously a question in all our minds. However, we were confident that our engineers wouldn’t let the ethos of the brand disappear – and boy have they delivered. The i4 absolutely retains what BMW stands for. It’s right there with the petrol or diesel cars, or even the proper M’s, and this will be the biggest differentiator with any other EV on the market.
The other thing we were not sure about was the new styling direction. Of course, your customers have demonstrated that they actually love it. But, here again, was there a debate within BMW when this styling direction was being discussed?
Not at all. Yes, they are a little aggressive and they do take a little getting used to, but whether it’s the i4, or the M4, or the iX, or even the next generation 7 Series – which we will launch in the market soon – these products grow on you. I still remember when we first saw pictures of the X7, I was thoroughly impressed, but a couple of colleagues were a little sceptical about how such a large grille would fare in the market. However, on the road, it has an absolutely different presence, which is appreciated and accepted by our customers here in India.
Coming back to the i4, what does someone do if they want one?
Tough question. Since we launched the car in May ’21, we’ve been flooded with bookings. Honestly, in retrospect, we underestimated how quickly India would adapt to electric vehicles. We’re already taking bookings towards the end of ‘24. The only thing that I can suggest is to wait – it’ll be worth the wait!
With the EU saying that they plan to ban the sale of all ICE vehicles by 2035, what kind of an impact does it have on a market like ours?
India is different from the EU. Tier I and even Tier II behave in a similar manner to how customers behave in Europe, so we will see electrification adaptability at a much higher pace in these cities. However, we strongly believe there will still be a robust demand for conventional vehicles in Tier II and Tier III towns, where the infrastructure and the electric roadmap are not as robust as in Tier I cities. So, we see gradual penetration of electric vehicles there. However, what we thought of three years ago is no longer valid, and we will continue to monitor how this develops in India.
What is your current split between petrol and diesel, and what is the future of diesel in India?
Our motto is to offer the power of choice – be it electrification or be it petrol or diesel. We want to offer whatever customers demand. We are not here to say we will switch off diesel from tomorrow. We will see how the market responds. We will only go towards 100% petrol and electrification if the market moves in that direction. We’ve seen a certain shift when BS6 standards were introduced in India. The demand for petrol went up and we also configured our supply accordingly, but we see a mix – you see cities in Gujarat and in the South, for instance, there is still robust diesel demand where customers travel long distances.
'Honestly, in retrospect, we underestimated how quickly India would adapt to electric vehicles'
What is your split between SUVs and sedans?
At the moment, it’s a 50-50 split, but that’s more a function of supply rather than demand. From a demand point of view, we see India developing into more of an SUV market in the long term.
What can we expect from BMW in 2023?
In 2023, we will see the most extensive product offensive that we’ve ever seen from BMW India in the last 15 years. We’ll start this at the end of December and carry it on throughout 2023.