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BMW: i on the ball

Date: 05 July 2012

BMW has announced a customer service programme designed to be all things to electric car owners. Jack Carfrae reports

BMW has revealed plans to roll out a programme of services to support owners of its electric and plug-in hybrid i cars.

The scheme, known as 360 Electric, is broken down into four parts: assistance services, public charging, home charging and flexible mobility solutions, all of which, the company claims, are designed to tackle the black clouds hanging over electric vehicles.

Speaking at a launch event at the company's first i store - a dealership dedicated to its i-branded cars - on London's Park Lane, Ian Robertson, member of the board of BMW AG said: "We took on board all of these factors [range anxiety, battery longevity etc] and we developed a concept, which we will call 360 Electric." Robertson did not specify when the programme would become available to UK customers, simply saying it "will be rolled out progressively in the markets in which these cars are sold", but with the launch of the i3 mini-MPV scheduled for late 2013, it is a reasonable assumption that the programme will go live at around the same time, if not a little earlier.

Describing the first of the four elements, assistance services, Robertson said: "[This] works from applications, which you can have on your smartphone that tell you how much range you have, but also where's the next charging station? Where can I get rapid charge? If I do have to charge at the side of the road, how can I get assistance to do that? Can a vehicle come alongside and can I have something that boosts me up very quickly? [The technology] provides that surety that it is possible."

The company will also offer the purchase and installation of home-charging wall boxes, along with a green energy contract and a smartcard that extends its use to the public charging network. Robertson said that BMW is working with a number of suppliers to improve the public charging network: "There are tens of thousands [of charging points] already in the UK. so in our view this is something that can be handled relatively easily."

The final aspect of the programme, flexible mobility, will see the firm offer a fleet of internal combustion engine vehicles to customers on a short-term basis, the idea being that cars with a longer range, four-wheel drive or other capabilities can be accessed when electric vehicles don't fit the bill. The exact format of this has yet to be confirmed, as Robertson explained: "Providing the opportunity for that, whether it be in a rental form, whether it be in a leasing form or whether part of the overall package, is what we are now developing."

He confirmed that other cars bearing the i sub-brand are due to follow: "It's no secret that we have the rights to all of the i numbers. There are no decisions on further models so far but this is not a one-off." He also said that future i store dealerships will be dedicated to cities: "We are going to concentrate on urban areas [with the i stores]. Initially we will have [i dealers] available in a smaller group of dealerships."

Alexander Efthimiou, vice president for product management, powertrain and modular systems at BMW AG, is responsible for the rollout of the 360 Electric programme. Speaking exclusively to BusinessCar, he explained that business users will be catered for with larger, multi-point wall boxes, sourced from external suppliers: "We have a programme for the private customer and we also have a programme for fleets, so we have specific solutions for fleet managers.

"The main focus is the private customer, but we will also have the wall box for our dealer side.

A fleet manager who is using, let's say 10, 20 or 30 cars, will buy a multi-point wall box. This is something Siemens or other companies will provide."