We’re on the visitors’ terrace at Frankfurt Airport overlooking the airfield. At the gates at Terminal 2 we see people boarding planes that will take them to São Paulo, Tokyo or Los Angeles. “My plane to New York leaves in three hours,” Uwe says, “so we have some time to talk.”
Uwe Dreher is the global marketing director for BMW i. We spoke to him over the phone a few days ago and asked him if he would share his story with us. “To prepare for the launch of the BMW i cars at the end of next year, I’m having to travel extensively,” Uwe said. “My life resembles the George Clooney movie Up in the Air. Maybe we can meet at the airport.”
And so here we are, on the visitors’ terrace at Frankfurt International Airport.
“The idea for establishing BMW i as a sub-brand of BMW started some years ago,” Uwe says. “We did global research on mobility 10 years ago and were kind of shocked by the findings. Research in Tokyo showed a change in the behaviour of young people. Until then, when you turned 18, normal behaviour had been that you wanted to get your driver’s license and bought a car. That meant freedom. Nowadays, in mega cities like Tokyo, having a car means hassle, congestion, traffic jams, parking problems. And because public transport in a city like Tokyo is perfectly well organised, you need your own car less and less.”
“For a car manufacturer these findings are kind of worrying,” I say.
“Another finding came from San Francisco, from the upscale residential areas,” Uwe continues. “Traditionally, in the parking lots in front of the expensive houses, you would find upscale cars, like BMW or Porsche. But research showed that, increasingly, cars like the Toyota Prius hybrid were replacing the high-end luxury cars. Sustainability was the new chic!”
“Interesting findings,” I say, “but that was 10 years ago. What has happened since then?”
“We did some field trials,” Uwe says. “We developed our electric Mini E and BMW ActiveE fleet to gain widely applicable hands-on experience. The BMW Group is the world’s first manufacturer of premium automobiles to deploy a fleet of over 600 all-electric vehicles for private use in daily traffic. We knew that putting electric components into a car designed for a fuel engine was not the solution.”
“And behind the scenes?” I ask. “What was the secret plan, behind the scenes?”
“We started from scratch, defining the next generation electric car, an electric born car,” Uwe says. “Why does a modern car look the way it does? Because it is based on the traditional conception of what a car should look like. Not this one, which we call a purpose-built electric car.”
The sound of an aeroplane taking off, forces Uwe to pause for a second. We follow the plane as it accelerates down the runway and lifts off. “BMW i is not just cars,” Uwe says as the decibels fade away. “It’s a global mobility project, for which I travel a lot.”
“Have you reached the ‘über elite black card ConciergeKey frequent flyer status’ already?” Maarten asks. “You said your life resembles George Clooney’s in Up in the air. In the story he’s trying to get to 10 million frequent flyer miles.”
“I remember,” Uwe says, “No, it’s not that bad.
“In my story, the idea is to answer the two trends,” he continues. “The sustainability chic in San Francisco and the mobility issues in mega cities like Tokyo. The car gives answers to the first one. The BMW i3 will be the most advanced electric car in the world. And it will be the most sustainable car in the world – in production, in use, and in recycling.”
Uwe pauses for a few seconds to let his words sink in.
“For the mobility issues in mega cities we had to come up with a concept beyond the most advanced electric car,” Uwe continues. “In addition to the vehicles themselves, the mobility services are another component of BMW i. Not everybody in the world’s major urban centres still wants to own their own vehicle. Together with Sixt, the car rental company, we created a state-of- the-art mobility service called ‘DriveNow’, a free-floating car-sharing system, aiming precisely at this market. The special highlight of this service is that vehicles do not have to be picked up from and returned to specific locations but can be hired and left wherever the customer wishes.”
“So when I’m in San Francisco, in the Golden Gate Heights,” Maarten says, “and I want to go for a ride to Fisherman’s Wharf, I look on the DriveNow app on my mobile phone, to see where I can pick up a car?”
“So I drive my BMW or MINI to the Wharf to have lunch, overlooking the San Francisco Bay,” Maarten continues, “and I look on my app to see where there is a parking space available for half a day?”
Uwe nods again. “And if you want to leave the car at Fisherman’s Wharf… that’s fine too,” he says. “Customised, flexible and above all uncomplicated. BMW i sees itself as a mobility ‘enabler’. The focus is on providing solutions for more efficient use of existing parking space, intelligent navigation systems and premium car-sharing. More innovative services are coming soon in a growing number of cities. We’ve actually only just begun.”
“Wow, can you tell us more about these mobility services?” I ask.
“I can,” Uwe says, “but then you have to take the flight to New York with me, that would give us an extra eight hours.”
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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