While electrified BMW and MINI cars are now a dominant presence on our roads, the company’s legacy in electromobility dates as far back as 1972. BMW Group Asia’s managing director Lars Nielsen tells Yanni Tan why the automaker is helming pole position in the global green motoring revolution.
Lars Nielsen’s move to Singapore some nine months ago coincided with an exciting sea change in the motoring scene. For many years now, local motorists have been used to seeing plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), especially BMW’s iPerformance models. But after a slow start for fully electric vehicles (EVs), car owners began to embrace this new future in earnest last year in tandem with our government’s bold move to have all vehicles on the roads powered by cleaner energy by 2040.
From end-2020 to end-2021, the EV ownership rate here had more than doubled, growing from 1,397 to 3,713 vehicles. At BMW Group Asia, which includes the MINI brand, sales of electrified vehicles increased threefold from 2020 to 2021. In the first four months of 2022, sales of PHEVs and EVs increased more than 360 per cent in the same period in 2021.
As carmakers began announcing their new line-up of all-electric vehicles and sustainability plans, the BMW Group had already established itself as a frontrunner – by virtue of its foresight in producing a concept electric car for the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, and taking the interim years prior to founding the BMW i brand in 2011 to further develop its expertise and technology.
In Singapore, BMW Group Asia was one of the first automotive companies to launch a fully electric vehicle: the BMW i3, in 2014. As of April 2022, four EV and five PHEV models are available across BMW and MINI in Singapore, with more to come by the end of the year. Globally, the BMW Group aims to sell more than 200,000 fully electric vehicles in 2022 – at least double its sales in 2021.
In the hot seat is BMW Group Asia’s managing director Lars Nielsen, who has the honour of driving this change in Singapore, and the challenge of promoting electromobility adoption in 14 markets in a geography as diverse as Asia Pacific. In particular, his portfolio stretches from Nepal to Sri Lanka, across Southeast Asia, all the way to Guam and Tahiti. Previously based in Dubai and Thailand during his most recent stints, the BMW veteran of 14 years has environmental awareness and sustainability coursing through his veins.
Here, he discusses BMW’s vision and goals, the challenges and opportunities in this new era in luxury motoring, and why Beemer petrolheads should not hesitate to propel into a green future.
BMW is one of the most prominent automakers bringing electromobility to markets around the world. Tell us more about how BMW started, and where it’s at now.
Sustainability has been part of the BMW Group’s DNA for a very long time. For example, in 1973, we were the first automotive company to appoint an Environmental Officer. As electromobility is essential in making BMW sustainable, we launched the BMW i brand in 2011. Soon after that, in 2013, the fully electric BMW i3 and plug-in hybrid BMW i8 were introduced. From 2013 to 2021, we invested a lot of time and money to further improve the battery technology, performance and design of our EVs to get us to where we are today.
By the end of 2025, the company aims to put more than two million EVs on the roads. To meet this increasing demand, we will continue to launch new fully electric models in Singapore, and by the end of 2022, we will offer five EVs: the BMW i7, BMW i4, BMW iX3, BMW iX and MINI Electric.
Besides new EVs, how else is BMW leading the charge in this automotive green evolution?
Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at the BMW Group. We believe that our responsibility to the environment goes beyond simply producing EVs. It’s our goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions across the entire life cycle of the vehicle (from sourcing to production to use phase), pursue a circular economy and drive social change.
The Danes are known to be champions of environmental sustainability. How does your culture resonate with BMW’s vision and goals?
For hundreds of years, Denmark was a society based on agriculture and fishing, and the Danes still feel closely tied to the land and the water around them. This respect for nature is why Denmark is a pioneer in promoting sustainability. Sustainability means different things to different people. To the Danes, sustainability is a holistic approach that includes renewable energy, water management, waste recycling and green transportation, to name a few.
You arrived in Singapore to a flurry of news on the electrification of Singapore’s vehicles and the building of infrastructure to make the whole country EV-ready. What does the road ahead of you look like?
The road ahead looks extremely promising! With all the stakeholders heading in the same direction, I think we are approaching the tipping point for more people to choose EVs.
First, the charging infrastructure is expanding, thanks to support from the government, network operators and energy providers. As part of ongoing initiatives such as the Singapore Green Plan 2030, nearly 2,000 HDB car parks will have at least three EV charging points each by 2025. This is a significant step in achieving Singapore’s target of 60,000 EV charging points by 2030.
Second, consumer confidence in EVs is growing as there are more models to choose from, increased driving range and comprehensive battery warranty packages, among other things. Finally, it’s clear the relevant government agencies and industry players are on the same page and play an active role in encouraging EV adoption. The recent LTA campaign #PowerEveryMove is a good example of the effort to strengthen public awareness and education to drive EV adoption.
Your customers are known to enjoy a sporty drive, value the car’s performance and get a thrill from experiencing internal engine combustion. Does there need to be a shift in mindset in terms of what sheer driving pleasure means for them?
First and foremost, we can assure customers that our EVs still drive like BMWs. They are BMWs first and EVs second. The difference now is that one can have the full BMW experience while driving with zero local emissions. The most important thing for individuals who are still on the fence is to get behind the wheel of our EVs, and I am confident they will be amazed!
How have the public responded to the new EVs you’ve launched?
The response from car enthusiasts and customers have been very positive! Test drive slots tend to get filled quickly, and models such as the BMW iX and BMW iX3 are fully sold out. Everyone has been impressed by how quick, silent and comfortable our EVs are to drive. For some of them, they can no longer imagine a life without an EV.
This demand stretches across the region too. According to a recent survey of 4,000 respondents that we conducted in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, eight in 10 drivers in Southeast Asia want to live in a more environmentally conscious world with more EVs. Some of the top motivators in Singapore, based on the survey, include government incentives, charging accessibility and longer battery warranty (up to 10 years).
The new BMW 7 Series has been unveiled and there is also a fully electric version. Could you tell us how the new 7 – the i7 in particular – has an edge over its competitors?
The new era of the luxury segment will be shaped by innovations in the fields of sustainability and digitalisation. This is where the all-new BMW 7 Series shines as it presents a new definition of luxury that focuses on the individual and their personal attitudes, needs and emotions.
Central to this reinterpretation is the BMW i7. The all-electric luxury sedan is a fully integrated member of the model family, and clearly demonstrates how an exclusive driving experience and the ultimate feeling of on-board well-being can be combined with an unwavering commitment to sustainability.
The following are just some of the innovative features that make the BMW i7 stand out from the crowd: BMW Crystal lights; BMW Theatre Screen; BMW Curved Display; exterior two-tone paint and automatic doors.
There are PHEVs of some of your cars and some models with 48V mild-hybrid powertrains. Why are there two different types of hybrid 7 Series, and which ones will be available in Singapore?
The all-new BMW 7 Series now offers a choice of combustion engines (with mild-hybrid tech), plug-in hybrid systems and all-electric drive for the first time ever. This enables the BMW Group to take into consideration a customer’s individual needs, infrastructure factors and legal regulations in all relevant automotive markets around the world. As for Singapore, we are planning to introduce one combustion engine and one fully electric variant of the BMW 7 Series in Q4 this year.
For some Singaporeans, a big consideration is the ability to drive into Malaysia with their EVs.
While Malaysia doesn’t fall under my purview, I am aware that as of March 2022, there are 336 public EV chargers (BMW Charging) across 236 locations in the country. BMW Charging, a mobility service of BMW i, gives drivers access to one of the largest and ever-increasing networks of public charging stations located in various office buildings, shopping malls, hotels and industrial parks around the world. Through BMW Charging, the BMW Group is doing its part by offering reliable charging solutions to support the changing mobility needs of customers globally.
This story first appeared in the June 2022 issue of Prestige Singapore.