One of the most interesting questions in the automotive world right now: How seriously are the incumbents taking the threat from our favorite California startup? One answer might be found at a recent event near Munich, where an image of Elon Musk appeared on a screen as a narrator ominously intoned, “We’re in the midst of an electric assault. This must be taken very seriously.”
The audience was composed of employees of the BMW Group, flown in for what Automotive News calls “a combination pep rally/horror film intended to make them afraid about the future of the industry.”
BMW was an early electrification pioneer – its i3, launched in 2013 was a highly innovative EV – but the company has since slackened its pace. The next vehicle in the i electric sub-brand is not expected until 2020 or 2021. “BMW has lost its leadership in innovation,” says Juergen Pieper, an analyst at Bankhaus Metzler in Frankfurt. “It’s not brave enough to get into pioneering projects and do something really new.”
Be that as it may, the company wants its employees to understand that big changes are afoot. So far this year, the carmaker has taken 14,000 engineers, marketers and factory managers, about 10 percent of its workforce, through day-long events designed to familiarize them with new technologies such as electrification, autonomy and ride-sharing.
“It’s easy to fall into a closed way of thinking,” says session leader Jutta Schwerdtle. “This helps push people out of that.”
On display at the event was a prototype of the iNext, a self-driving electric sedan with a retractable steering wheel. CEO Harald Krueger has said that the iNext will replace the 7 series as the company’s flagship in 2021. BMW recently outlined a plan to milk money from its highly profitable SUVs in order to finance the transition to EVs.