Road ahead will be paved with shared vehicles and electro mobility solutions

Technology negates the need to travel. BMW is plotting a more holistic route

The BMW i3: with technology lessening the need to own a car, BMW knows it needs to keep up with changing transport needs

The BMW i3: with technology lessening the need to own a car, BMW knows it needs to keep up with changing transport needs


We are coming to the end of the age of car ownership. That may be a difficult fact to swallow for an average Irish car buyer, who not only likes to own what they drive but what they live in too. All this renting and leasing is for fancy European types – we usually like to have a deposit down and a final payment in sight.

That will change – it will have to and the world’s car makers are already heading in that direction. We have heard of and seen various schemes. Peugeot piloted a programme some years ago called Mu, where instead of buying a car, you simply made a monthly payment and then could pick what you needed when you needed it.

A 207 for trips into town, a 508 for a long motorway schlep, a Partner van for moving house. Micro car rental schemes such as GoCar are already visible on the streets of Dublin and other European cities. And crucially, we care less and less about cars.

Perhaps that’s not true for you, reading the Motors section, and I can promise it’s not true for us writing it. And it’s probably not true for the legions of first-generation car owners in markets such as China, India, Russia and elsewhere.

It is they who are driving burgeoning global car sales to the point where some of the bigger car makers are about to bust the 10-million annual production barrier. But there is an underlying trend sending chilly winds through boardrooms in Detroit, Stuttgart, Paris and Tokyo. And that is that younger buyers are increasingly ambivalent towards cars. With a greater percentage than ever of the planet’s population living in cities and mega cities, owning a car is no longer a sign of freedom and ambition, it’s increasingly a chore and an expensive one at that.

Electronics vs journeys
And now BMW has launched the i3. Nothing too unusual these days in a major car maker unveiling an electric car. CO2 emissions regulations, ever climbing petrol and diesel prices, and the likely price hike in the cost of buying a diesel car once the new, more stringent Euro 7 rules on engine emissions come into force mean that electricity is the way to go. That burgeoning urban population lives in a connected, electrified world, so why run your car on dead dinosaurs?

The more troubling extension to that is why run a car at all? For those of us living outside the centre of Dublin it might be hard to believe but public transport is improving. Besides, you no longer have to go somewhere to do something – the connected world brings the somewhere to you, whether through your phone, tablet or laptop. And it’s those electronic devices that the next generation of consumers really cares about. The number of 16-34 year olds in the US without a driving licence has jumped from 21 per cent to 26 per cent in just a decade. Cars are as dead to them as the dinosaurs that turned into crude.

So, BMW knows it has to stop being just a company that makes and sells cars and start becoming a company that sells a “transport solution”. Martin Arlt is one of the chief planners and strategists at BMW for the new electric i-brand and he told The Irish Times that BMW’s long heritage of engineering excellence is going to have to evolve for the future. It must become less and less a maker of things, and more and more a supplier of a transport service.

“The i-brand covers, maybe, more mobility and solutions than for the rest of BMW but it does not mean that we do not do our traditional business with car selling. It will be in addition to this, and also some of the mobility systems will transfer over to the traditional car sales area.

“In the 5-series and 7-series segments, we have more and more leasing contracts already, so you can see that it is starting to happen. But, in general, the i-brand covers the area of holistic mobility solutions.

“The strategy for BMW i is, of course, to think into the future. And maybe in 50 years, BMW will not so much be about engines and so on, but will be more about mobility solutions and becoming a mobility provider. So like a doctor or a lawyer or something, it’s about providing a mobility service to a customer according to their needs.

“You have a travel agency for your normal long trips, your holidays, your flights, well then BMW i is for your short journeys, in mega cities and towns.

Autonomous driving
“The important thing with the electro-mobility concept is that you now have a different design for cars. You don’t need space for a big, heavy engine, and so more of the car can be given over to cabin space for the people. It makes us stop and think about what that room can be used for, about connectivity and about life within the car. It’s moving away from just driving the car. And also, with autonomous driving coming in the future, we have to think more and more about how we distinguish ourselves from our competitors.

“So design is a key element, just as you have with, say, the iPhone, but I think driving pleasure will still be important. The i3 drives completely different to, for example, a Nissan Leaf, so you can see that we still think of driving pleasure, but certainly providing other mobility solutions and services will become more and more what we do.”

BMW plans to sell not just the i3 itself, but a world of services and products to support it, including a car port with a built-in solar charging station, a smartphone app that gives you advice when public transport might be the better option for your journey, and access to more conventional petrol and diesel cars for when you need a car that can go long haul.

All of which can be included in your monthly leasing payment. And just like your phone, you can upgrade in a few years’ time.

I hope you like your next new car, because it might be the last one you ever actually own . . .