BMW makes heavy, expensive, high performance cars. That’s the perception and the perception is not as BMW would like it.
The game had changed and BMW needs to change. It has developed a series of measures that will not only make BMW look and feel greener. It will be greener.
Ian Robertson, the group’s marketing director and the only Brit on the main board, was in London last week to show a new side to BMW and to explain the thinking that has been evolving since the 1970s, he says.
Firstly, the range of offers will change: dealer showrooms will soon display not just cars and motorbikes, but scooters and bicycles as well.
Although the principal aim is to sell, the company has been considering rental.
Peugeot has already taken a similar initiative under the name of Mu and is operating in four UK metropolitan areas.
Being performance-oriented, BMW’s bicycle is power boosted. The so-called Pedelec can reach a speed of 18 miles an hour.
This is not a normal bike that has been electrified. It was designed from scratch to be electric.
BMW has a fabulous marketing opportunity in the UK next year as one of the sponsors of the Olympics and the provider of 200 Mini E and BMW electric cars for the athletes on their commute from hotel to arena and back again.
To an extent, the initiative is defensive. Robertson highlighted the fact that in Tokyo now 80% of the under 25s do not have a driving licence and are happily getting around by public transport.
If BMW is to secure them early as customers it has to be with something other than a car.
There are similar, but less pronounced trends in other countries.
In Germany, it has devised a rental scheme for its cars.
Sixt has 300 1 Series cars on the road that cost 25p a minute and the petrol comes free. The cars are parked around the city as with the Street Cars initiative in the UK.
They can be traced by a mobile phone app. There are already 3,000 registered users.
But the thinking goes wider than just the supply of mobility alternatives. BMW has created a venture capital fund that allows it to take share-holdings in innovative and futuristic enterprises.
One is Parkatmyhouse.com which, as the name suggests, swaps parking rights during the working day.
When one driver sets off to work, another turns up and parks in the now-empty drive close to his work.
The other is mycityway.com which allows subscribers to check traffic web cams which show where the holdups are that morning so the driver can plan a different route.
Robertson gets unexpected value from the relationship.
“These people have 25 software engineers and three ex-City bankers. They are running very speedy development methods that have taught us a lot.”
BMW Arch-rival Mercedes is not sitting still. It has picked on China for its studies and innovations and will launch an electric bike scheme there next year.