More than a decade on, a new game-changer looms: BMW’s i electric car range. The i3, in particular, will be a mould-breaker. Not just for its engineering, but also its retailing strategy. Here’s how it will work. Electric i cars can be sold directly by BMW. You will be able to click-and-buy online and your car will be delivered to your door (already possible with bananas and books but still revolutionary in the antediluvian world of car retailing).
BMW i stores – the first was in Park Lane, London – will offer a ‘retail experience’; they will not look like parking lots. Customers will lease, rarely buy, so a ‘recommended retail price’ is irrelevant. Leases will be flexible. If you don’t get on with your car, you can stop the lease. You will buy mobility packages, not a car. Prices will be fixed with no haggling. You will be able to purchase different packages, not least a flexible mobility deal that allows you to use petrol or diesel cars when a long drive beckons. It’s all thanks to a BMW car-sharing-fleet. Another mobility package enables users to access various forms of BMW transport, all from your smartphone app. So I can collect electric or petrol cars from reserved parking places, but also use scooters, fold-up bicycles (and even trains).
BMW will also have its own Zipcar-like car-sharing scheme. In many ways, electric cars work best when they are shared. Naturally, their usual parking places will be alongside recharging points. BMW has already announced its ‘Genius’ programme, modelled closely on Apple’s. These are tech-savvy experts who work at dealers, although you can also ring them if the idea of going to a retailer is too unpalatable. Little wonder that the new i cars – note the Apple nomenclature again! – were the catalysts for these Geniuses. (If they are Geniuses, what, I wonder, are normal BMW car salesmen?) Car retailing may finally be revolutionised. Intriguingly, part of the solution to the perennial problem of selling cars may well be that cars will not be ‘sold’ at all.