What’s the point of BMW’s trivial Tesla-taunting ad spots?

BMW 330e TV Ad

If the major automakers really want to begin selling their EVs in volume (and not everyone is convinced that they do), sooner or later they will have to start advertising them. BMW has been ahead of the curve in this regard – it has run several TV ads for the i3 featuring cool people discovering the joys of going electric.

These ads are obviously aimed at getting people to buy BMW EVs. However, it’s hard to see the point of a pair of video spots that BMW recently revealed, which target Tesla reservation holders, and imply that, instead of waiting for a Model 3, folks might prefer to buy a BMW 330e PHEV, which is available now.

The irony here is as thick as used motor oil. Where do automakers get the idea that ads for electrified vehicles should knock other electrified vehicles, as previous ads for the Chevy Volt and for Lexus hybrids have done? (More irony: some of these ads ridiculed the BMW i3.) Shouldn’t ads for modern plug-in vehicles be bashing legacy ICE vehicles?

Furthermore, a PHEV and an EV are two different products, which are going to appeal to two different types of drivers. “It’s the car you’ve been waiting for, without the wait,” says one of the spots. But it’s not. Implying that someone who wants a Tesla is going to settle for a plug-in hybrid with a minimal electric range is like saying that someone who lusts after a Corvette would be just as happy with a Corolla, as long as they can get it right away.

We don’t yet know whether BMW plans to give these spots any substantial exposure on TV, or whether they’ll just sit on YouTube for auto media like Jalopnik to make fun of (automakers don’t generally reveal how their ad budgets break down among different models, much less how much they spend on any particular campaign). But it’s safe to say that, while the few EV ads in existence are analyzed and discussed in detail by EV pundits, they are barely noticed by the general public. Even the i3 ad that aired during the Superbowl is a raindrop on the windshield compared to the torrential downpour of auto ads that consumers see every day.

So what’s the point of an ad for a car that BMW surely never planned to produce more than a few hundred of? Do the Bavarians really want to highlight the fact that over 370,000 people have ordered a Model 3, sight unseen, while only 218 customers have bought a 330e since the car went on sale in the US five months ago?


Source: Jalopnik

  • Lito Tongson

    Stupid decision. Hopefully, someone will get demoted over that marketing decision

  • Ramon A. Cardona

    Sorry but BMW and Porsche are not mainstream high volume sales cars. Bugatti makes 45 Veirons a year at over 1.75 million and all are sold. I welcome any car with a plug in this incremental transition to the many modes of electric transportation. If of 100 hybrid owners 8 go to a plug vehicle, for now that is a success. Used EV’s are selling well 100% due to the price. How many Porsches are sold on the USA? Not many. Yet two models have plugs and the limited model super EV all sold and now command super car prices. Let’s give time for the formula, which is not yet defined, time to work.

  • Brock Nanson

    I think this ad campaign is indicative of the confusion (and likely – conflict) at the corporate level in Big ICE companies. I saw a GM commercial a few months ago that disparaged the Leaf because it had no ability to keep driving when the battery charge was depleted… the Volt, on the other hand, could keep driving. This was at the time that the Bolt was starting to get press. That ad didn’t stick around for long… I guess someone eventually realized they were diss’ing their own Bolt as well as the Leaf!

    Bottom line – for me, the BMW ad smacks of desperation more than anything else!

  • sometimestheyaresomewhatright

    Sure there are people waiting for the Tesla who know all of the details. Then there are a bunch who just jumped on the trend. They didn’t care about why the Tesla was the ‘hot car’. BMW is giving those folks a faster payoff.

    They are also subtlety giving them a reason to just ask for their deposit back, even if they don’t buy the BMW. That helps BMW too. Anything that takes Tesla down a notch is good for BMW. How many BMWs are you going to buy if you are waiting for a Tesla?

  • Kevin Douglass

    The reason they do it is panick. They are scared of Tesla.
    BMW … make something that really competes. That is what the market wants and you must deliver.

  • EV Positive

    Our family own a short range EV and a PHEV which together cost less than the price of a Tesla Model 3, and we’ve owned them for nearly 2 years now. Together the EV and PHEV are an almost perfect combination while long range EV are still too expensive. Around 80-90% of our driving is pure electric, yet we have the flexibility to take the PHEV on a 2500km holiday without forward planning or lengthy forced stops.
    Mitsubishi has sold over 100,000 Outlander PHEV, yet because it is not available in USA it is forgotten and the US “compliance cars” get the attention instead.

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    All the traditional car manufacturers find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They are well aware of what happened to Kodak but they currently make little or no money on their EVs, all their real profits come from fossil fuelled vehicles. They don’t want to rubbish the source of their income so they rubbish rival EVs instead. Musk having no income from fossil fuelled vehicles has stated that Tesla’s competition is from gasoline cars, the manufacturers of those cars are stuck and the longer they pay lip service to the coming revolution the surer they will be replaced by Tesla, Apple and BYD.

    • Electric Bill

      The irony is that Kodak developed the first digital imaging chip; if they had jumped on it, rather than their market shrinking to nothingness as it did, they soon would have been eating everyone else’s lunch— not just Fuji and Agfa, but Nikon, Canon, Leica, and every other camera maker as well. Sad.

  • Electric Bill

    The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Sad.

    Chelsea Sexton, a co-founder of Plug In America, talks about how there was a kind of schizophrenic, confused mentality at GM back in the early days of the EV1. GM had a mandate to produce one per cent of their vehicles as EVs, or they were not allowed to sell in California. They had to design and build something that was good enough to sell, so the design staff had to do a competent job. GM was not going to tell them “only do a half-ass job, please”.

    Those designers, just like the Fiat 500e designers much more recently that were also creating a compliance car, were rightfully thrilled to be able to design something from the ground up… something that would be a legacy for them that they could always point to with pride.

    The chiefs that had to hire a team to build something the company was forced to build, likely never even visited the design studios, knowing that to do so they would be looking at something that would likely give them ulcers.

    So those early EV1 designers worked as well as they could to produce something their bosses would likely despise, but it did not matter to them. Those electrical engineers and battery chemistry specialists or whatever relished having something to do that was fresher, less restricted than their colleagues working with machines that no longer had much potential for improvement, and which were a dying art regardless.

    Chelsea described some rather odd behavior at GM back in the day: something akin to what one might expect at a crooked boxing academy that made its living rigging fights… telling the Palookas what ring they had to take the fall in… somebody had to pull their punches.

    If any of you are old enough to remember, the EV1 TV commercials were genuinely artful, in the oddest way… they were different, but it could take a while for you to put your finger on just what it was.

    In any car ad you have ever seen, you see exuberant, healthy youth, doing the stuff exuberant youths do: jumping in, jumping out, laughing, giggling… tight close-ups of gleaming Colgate smiles.

    The TV ads for the EV1 definitely broke that mold— you heard the voice of an old lady sounding like the Miss Daisy of cinema: serene, placid and philosophical. You would see the EV in silhouette, off in the distance, cresting a hill, as a trail of dust followed in vortex. It was shot from afar so as not to let you get too curious.

    The ads left you with an impression of “everything is right in the world. Now, let’s get on with watching the rest of the X-Files”.

    Those ads were carefully crafted for a feel-good moment, and not to excite you into buying an electric vehicle, especially if you were young and eager for some new wheels.

    Here is another EV-1 commercial, and if you really pay attention, you can plainly see there was no intent to sell the CAR. Regulators at the time would have been too naïve to see, it was all about compliance.


    There are other EV1 commercials on TouTube, and I encourage you to watch them. Very enlightening.

    If you still really DID want an EV, the ads NEVER gave you a hint as to where to buy one, because there was no such thing as an “EV1 dealer”, and if you tried to find one in the Yellow Pages (wow, those seem so very ANCIENT now), you were out of luck. EV1s were sold through Saturn dealers (probably because they were the smallest GM division), and you were likely to encounter a run-around trying to find a demo to see, much less to drive.

    If you still said you wanted to buy one, the “salesman” would do all he could to steer you away: a nice shiny gas guzzler was what you REALLY wanted, and he would be eager to point out any reasons you really did not want the EV1: range anxiety, there were not many places to charge, and charging up at home would take you all night.

    We all know. EVs not only do not make much money for the car makers, but the salesmen have always been wrapped up in a culture of cubic inches and turbos, and the drone of a well-tuned exhaust, making them feel I’ll at ease selling something without so much as a camshaft. Especially in years past, salespeople had no familiarity with electric power trains, and were much more eager to sell you what THEY liked and were familiar with.

    There is a terrible problem with inertia. Especially at BMW, Porsche, and Jaguar there are distinct signs the top management is onboard with EVs, but it will likely take years to shake off the mentality described above that keeps EVs from being sold. I suspect the best move a car maker could make who really wants to break away from old ways is to insist their salespeople drive EVs exclusively for at least several weeks, and to immerse themselves in EV tech and culture… once they do so for just a little while, they cannot help but become True Believers.

  • Chris Irwin

    Crazy idea; no way can you compare a plug-in hybrid to a Tesla EV. Anyway, I would say it’s worth waiting! Demonstrates how worried BMW are by Tesla and how far behind they are.

    • Lance Pickup

      You hit on the essence of the reason: BMW is scared of Tesla and had to do SOMETHING. But they are counting on the fact that the general public is not knowledgeable of EVs and probably don’t understand the difference between a PHEV and a BEV. They just know it’s “electric”, and they’ve certainly heard of BMW and associate that brand as being aspirational and hope to get some deposit holders to jump ship.