We weren’t privy to the internal itinerary for BMW’s press conference at Frankfurt, but we are quite sure that unlike most German things which are planned with precision to the last minute, this one was changed while the hundreds of motoring hacks were still taking their seats.
The hacks were not the only ones sitting either, because in what was an unusually lighthearted and jovial interview setup, BMW CEO Harald Krueger admitted it was better to be sitting on a chair on the stage after his fainting moment at the last Frankfurt show two years ago.
Or perhaps he needed to sit down after reading all the reaction to the new X7 which was unveiled for the first time at the show. Except that it wasn’t. As Krueger was talking on stage, four models looked poised to enter the stage from the wings. There was the new Rolls-Royce Phantom, the new 6 Series GT, the Mini GP concept and the X7. They sat in the shadows and in the end not one of them was brought on to the stage.
In fact, even after the conference, the X7 failed to appear on its own stand for some time. I only saw it appear much later, after most of the press had left.
Part of the reason for avoiding bringing out the hideous X7 or any of the other three models was that like many car makers at the show, there was a strategy to announce. But first, again like many of the other manufacturers, there were some snide remarks to be made and serious questions to be answered.
In a clear dig at German rival Volkswagen, Krueger stated that "we need to regain the trust of customers". Fair point, but he went on to say "there is no cheating device at the BMW Group". Ouch, take that VW.
However, BMW is embroiled in a controversy over cartels along with other German car makers. Krueger said that he has launched a working group to investigate any alleged cartel between the German car companies which is said to go back to the 1980s. However he did add that "talks between car companies are not unusual".
Those issues out of the way, it was on to the real order of the day, sustainable mobility.
"Sustainable mobility is in our common interest," he said, pointing out that e-mobility is the priority for the company followed by digitisation.
Then Ian Robertson, board member for sales and marketing at BMW Group and former head of BMW SA, took to the stage for the main event, the reveal of the brand’s new electric models. These included the new i3 and the slightly sportier i3S as well as the Mini Electric concept.
Robertson said the company has nine electrified BMW cars (read about the 330e plug-in hybrid on page 3) as well as one motorbike. Then it was time for the big reveal and out came the i-Vision Dynamics concept, a full battery-electric vehicle with a claimed range of 600km. The range is interesting because it shows the contest going on when it comes to removing the dreaded range anxiety.
Last week we reported on the new Nissan Leaf with a claimed range of 400km, then VW promised 500km the night before the Frankfurt show and BMW jumped this to 600km. Of course, none of its current electric models can do this now.
Robertson said the i-Vision concept. will sit between the i3 and the i8, so it could be the i4,5,6 or 7 assuming the company sticks to its current naming convention. There was a strong rumour before the show that BMW would reveal its new i5 and there are many already referring to the concept as such. However, Robertson described the concept as a four-door Gran Coupe. Generally, the Gran Coupe models have carried even numbers, so we reckon it will reach the market in 2021 as the i4.
There was one other model that made its first real public appearance for the brand. The X3 is hugely important for BMW as people move from sedans like the 3 Series to SUVs, but it is also important for SA where it will be built for local and export markets at the company’s plant in Rosslyn near Pretoria.
It looks more grown up than previous generations, which is not surprising given it has increased in size and stature. We will be driving it at its international launch next month so keep an eye out for our first impression of what will be a proudly South African German.