BMW Or Tesla: Which Automaker Leads In Innovation?

3 years ago by Inside EVs Staff 28

BMW i3 and Tesla Model S

BMW i3 and Tesla Model S

BMW i3

BMW i3

For years to come, BMW will not only compete in the premium segment with the likes such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Infiniti or Cadillac, but also with new companies that aim to take on and conquer the electric vehicles premium segment. A fairly new player, Tesla, is the talk of the block.

With a charismatic, intelligent and risk-taker CEO, Elon Musk, the California-based automaker is already providing to electric customers an impressive vehicle: Tesla Models S. The same very car scored the highest score in Consumer Reports and it is often regarded as one of the best cars on the market, electric or conventional.

And the company is just getting started. A future crossover model is already in works while a midsize premium EV will arrive in the feature to take on the BMW 3 Series.

Yet at the same time, BMW is betting on the same market as well. With the largest investment in the company’s history, the i sub-brand is BMW’s biggest bet and one that can take the historical premium automaker to the next level. The new BMW i3 and i8 are also regarded as two of the most technologically advanced electric or plug-in hybrid cars on the market and initial stats show the bet on “green cars” will pay off.

Furthermore, the two companies share a mutual respect for each other. Despite initial jokes aimed at BMW’s i3 design, representatives from the two automakers have recently met to discuss the future of supercharging, among other topics.

*Editor’s Note: This post appears on BMWBLOG.  Check it out here.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

In a recent conversation with Harald Krüger, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Production, we learned that BMW is looking at Tesla as enabled of the electric vehicles market and a great company that not only helps promote the EV market but also paves the road for BMW and other automakers.

But the following question arises: which company is a bigger innovator?

Peter Yared, CTO/CIO at CBS Interactive, tries to shed some light on this topic from a technology, brand recognition and market size perspective.

Here is an excerpt from an article published on TechCrunch:

“BMW invested tremendous resources in its electric car platform to develop an all-electric vehicle platform, and it is willing to integrate legacy technology in order to deliver immediate value to its customers. Conversely, Mercedes chose a partnership route and is buying the drivetrain and battery technology for its upcoming electric car from Tesla. Both BMW and Mercedes are well ahead of Tesla in advanced vehicle technology like self-parking and cruise control that can automatically follow highway lanes and maintain distance from other vehicles.”

“Rather than waiting for battery technology to evolve to make an all-electric car with a 200-mile range at a mid-range price point, BMW is selling an optional “range extender” consisting of a two cylinder motorcycle engine that maintains the batteries at a 5 percent power level and extends the car’s range an additional 80 miles. Since the range extender powers the batteries rather than a gas engine, the i3 is not a hybrid, but the range extender can be continually refilled so that the car is never stuck without power. It’s a total hack, but is well thought out and competitive. BMW’s engineers must have been giggling when they came up with this one.”

“With the i3, BMW has delivered a “good enough” luxury electric car for the urban driver and average commuter, who can also optionally use the car for longer trips without having to plan for supercharger stations.”

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28 responses to "BMW Or Tesla: Which Automaker Leads In Innovation?"

  1. Anon says:

    Seems there is some industry interest in copying Tesla– just no one’s done a very good job of it yet…

    1. Disappointed says:

      Automaker leading in Innovation !
      BMW says, “Look at us we are almost like Tesla.”

      Yes, to Tesla, it has “Innovation” plus it is a car everyone wants !
      No, to BMW who has construction innovation but it is not proving to be a car that people want to buy. Dealers across America are loaded with inventory. There are as many unsold i3s as there are unsold Cadillac ELRs.
      A better BMW comparison might well be Ford !
      Obviously, this self serving comparison being promoted by BMW to Tesla is just one more of what has becomse a string of daily attempts to market the i3.

      Here is perhaps the more accurate comparable car claiming “Innovation” as one of it’s core attributes.
      http://classiccars.about.com/od/classiccarsaz/a/Edsel.htm
      From, “Edsel a Legasy Failure”
      “Car buyers didn’t purchase the Edsel because it was a bad car, it was just that it didn’t live up to the expectations that the company created in the prior months.”
      Could BMW buyers be feeling the same way ?

      Innovation, was at the heart of Ford’s claims.
      They sold 68,000 the first year. The rest is history !

    2. James says:

      When InsideEvs runs this stuff I have to wonder if they’re getting paid to publish BMW promo fluff or any dumb words ever published by some Euro hack to promote BMW.

      First, BMW makes a lot of cars. They also import tons of cars. BMW is an ICE auto company and they’re not changing anytime soon. They just announced 40..yes, FORTY new versions will be made of their FWD UDX ( Mini Coupe ) platform – some are on their way to our shores as we speak. Yes, an “econo” FWD BMW based on a Mini chassis. Sure, there’s turbo, AWD and all sorts of body types and a new CUV – yet this article and these hacks seem to say BMW is an ELECTRIC CAR COMPANY – or a company that is truly serious about electric cars. i8 has electric capability like a Panamera hybrid – to deal with those pesky zero emissions zones popping up all over Europe. Gee – for 160-170 thousand dollars, you can buy an impractical 2 seater with jump seats for your tennis racket…And the i3…Which will sell in miniscule numbers and has this “revolutionary” range extender which is a WalMart version of a Chevrolet Volt. This writer states: “BMW’s engineers must have been giggling when they came up with this one.” You mean, when they hired Frank Weber from GM, and came up with the idea three years after GM did?

      I passed a brand-new X-3 on the highway a few hours ago – with the sticker still in the window. THIS is what BMW survives and thrives selling. CUVs, and cars that burn a whole lot of petrol.

      Who can even say BMW and Tesla in the same sentence? I know who…people who are clueless or promoting BMW, that’s who.

  2. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

    You snuck that hilarious “not a hybrid” quote in just to test us, right? It’s utterly amazing how people who get paid for analysis just don’t get it.

    BMW’s use of CFRP could end up being more important than the EV element. Tesla’s work to lower the cost of batteries could be more important than them buildig cars..

    1. TomArt says:

      Agreed.

  3. Smeghead says:

    Here’s a question I’d like to see posed to other automakers looking to duplicate Tesla’s success: Why do you feel that an EV has to be so bloody ugly?

    1. Philip says:

      The only reason I can think of is that they don’t genuinely want EVs to catch on. If they make them ugly, they limit their market to people who are prepared to put up with a lot of of ‘downside’ in order to be (or appear to be) green.

      It’s designed to not be a threat to their main business.

      1. Priusmaniac says:

        +1

    2. Braben says:

      Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Besides, they are obviously not trying to “duplicate” Tesla with the i3, otherwise they wouldn’t have built a completely different car. Remember that the i3 was originally called the “megacity car”. The Model S is a huge vehicle (bigger in size than a BMW 7) and hence far less convenient to drive and park in urban environments than a car like the i3.

    3. Alonso Perez says:

      Definitely don’t agree that the i3 is ugly.

    4. Fool Cells says:

      I wonder this too. If i were BMW, i would have said…the three series is our bread and butter. Can we put an EV power train in there? What compromises would be necessary? Can we do a clean sheet three series like model?

    5. David Murray says:

      Well, let me spell it out for you. First (and most importantly) there is not a car that exists that SOMEBODY doesn’t think is ugly. I happen to think the i3 is attractive, as is the Leaf and even the Prius.

      But most importantly, most people who want to buy an EV want the world to know it is an EV. And so they like that unique styling that says “look at me, I’m different.” If I’m going to spend $35k to $50k on an electric vehicle, I definitely want people to know what it is. If I bought a Focus Electric, hardly anyone would know. Compare sales of the Focus Electric to the Leaf and I think I will have made my point. Both vehicles have similar capabilities and price. The Focus arguably “looks better” than the Leaf. But it also looks like every $16k Focus on the road.

      Look at sales of the Honda Civic Hybrid vs. its competitor the Toyota Prius. Which one sells in greater numbers?

      Unique styles sell for vehicles with unique powertrains.

      1. Smeghead says:

        The Prius isn’t bad; the Leaf, i3, and Volt? Meh. Tesla has shown you can be an EV and be stylish with the exterior, too.

        I’m not a fan of large vehicles; I wouldn’t be comfortable at all in a Model S. But a Tesla motor & battery pack under a Subaru Outback or Impreza and I’d probably be a happy camper.

        The cynic in me also thinks there’s some truth in Philip’s comment.

      2. david_cary says:

        Went from a Civic Hybrid to a Leaf. I don’t want to stand out – I really don’t. The civic hybrid had some advantages but it is not as good of a car as a prius – that is why its sales weren’t as good.

        If I could buy a 3 series EV with a 200 mile range for $50k – I might do it.

        Not everyone wants to stand out…

  4. Dennis Miles says:

    The article reads,”BMW is selling an optional “range extender” consisting of a two cylinder motorcycle engine that maintains the batteries at a 5 percent power level and extends the car’s range an additional 80 miles. Since the range extender powers the batteries rather than a gas engine, the i3 is not a hybrid, but the range extender can be continually refilled so that the car is never stuck without power.” The part I am having trouble with is,”Since the range extender powers the batteries rather than a gas engine, the i3 is not a hybrid,” This an incorrect statement. the range extender is a gasoline engine and the “i3” is a “Series Hybrid.” (Just like the Volt by definition…)Editors need some tech knowledge when dealing with a technical subject !

  5. Alonso Perez says:

    I think it’s a very strong effort from BMW, given where they are coming from. From the point of view of an ICE maker their approach makes a lot of sense. They cannot obsolete their cars overnight, or ignore the EV market. This is a good entry strategy, and they will iterate through it and gain scale.

    I have little doubt that BMW is serious and brings something to the table.

    That said, Tesla is obviously the top innovator here. If it wasn’t for Tesla, BMW would not even be trying. Heck, BMW even places third behind Nissan, which has done a lot for EVs without needing Tesla to prompt them.

  6. Jouni Valkonen says:

    I think that BMW customers would be more happy if they actually could stop by 135 kW Supercharging station and have a coffee break there to get extra 80 miles range, rather than limping on highway depending on scooter engine.

  7. Jouni Valkonen says:

    I think that the only thing what BMW has innovated is the carbon fiber body. But it is not related on plug-in solutions as Rolls-Royce Phantom would benefit even more carbon fiber technology. And certainly BMW has zero interests to provide an electric RR Phantom although at that price category, added cost of long range EV is not significant.

  8. zoe driver says:

    Tesla is leading vs BMW.

    They can adress the mass market, BMW not. Carbon is for few high priced cars only. 100.000 or more cars are not possible.

    So with BMW no revolution is possible.

    Besides carbon BMW uses rare earth materials and has no 3-phase Carging for home charging.

    And the small Tesla is building a ww fast charging network from their money where BMW is so poor that they need government money for their chargers.

  9. Fool Cells says:

    The only EV company remotely close to Tesla is Nissan. The i3 is a compliance like car. It is only available in a handful of areas. Not to mention it does nothing to push EV’s ahead, not a single thing.

    Range…NOPE
    Performance…NOPE
    Exterior Styling…NOPE
    Interior Styling…NOPE
    Features…NOPE
    Cost…NOPE

    1. mustang_sallad says:

      The i3 is the most energy efficient EV on the market.

    2. FFY says:

      Interesting claims. Let’s see:

      -Range: I give you that. It’s not pushing the envelope, given that it’s primarily a city car. But the smaller batter also helps to make the car very efficient (which cannot be said of the Tesla, where you are constantly lugging around half a ton of weight that is not needed most of the time).

      -Performance: It’s not a Model S, but 0-60 in 7s is nothing to sneeze at. On my recent test drive, it actually felt really fast.

      – Exterior: Matter of taste. IMO it’s one of the better looking compact hatchbacks out there.

      – Interior: Have you ever sat it one? I think the interior is really nice and fresh.

      – Features: It has more features than the Tesla (a car twice its price), including things like active cruise control and parking assist.

      – Cost: It’s not cheap, but certainly more affordable than a Model S. Let’s get back to that comparison once Tesla has released a model that is not just for millionaires.

      Frankly, I don’t get the hostility coming from some Tesla fans. I think this car (along with offerings from VW) will do a lot to bring EVs closer to the mainstream.

  10. vdiv says:

    Since the nature of the topic is provocation I’ll bite. BMW or Tesla, which leads in innovation?

    Well neither. GM led back in 1990 with the EV1 and again in 2008 with the Volt. Love them or hate them GM made the EV a feasible reality for all of us, that is innovation that matters.

    $100k aluminum can cars or $50k skinny tires and limited range plastic cars are not true innovation.

    Have at it! 🙂

  11. franky_b says:

    Wow, Tesla fan based is trully on a mission here.

    Discloser, I test drove and waiting for my i3-Rex.

    Both are innovating. Tesla is going for the brut force, throw a big battery pack at the problem, build supercharger for the big battery pack.

    BMW are innovating with their integrated approach with low carbon foot print during the build process, light vehicule and car efficiency (less mass always requires less energy, Elon may laugh at the car, but even him will agree with that). The driving dynamics are great, it’s really fun to drive.

    As for the looks, well it’s relative, all I will say is, pictures are deceiving. The i3 interior is unique and beautiful.

    Toyota RAV4-EV was a compliance car (only available in CARB states). The i3 is a global car. Except for the REX where they did undermind it’s capacity to meet CARB requirement.

    1. franky_b says:

      If you want a better balance text about why BMW and Tesla approach differ so much read this.

      http://www.bmwblog.com/2014/08/08/bmw-tesla-taking-different-approaches-will-ultimately-face/

    2. liberty says:

      I think brute force is a strange term when it comes to tesla. GM, Toyota, and Honda said it couldn’t be done, because batteries were not ready. Tesla put together a large number of less expensive batteries with a cooling system and electronics to tame it. Its a consequence of not having the deep pockets of toyota or gm.

      The i3 is innovative, but bmw bent over too far to satisfy the bizzaro carb regulators for bevx. Let’s face it they didn’t have a 1L 3 cyclinder so through a motorcycle engine in the car with too small of a gas tank. They did take gm’s skateboard design which is innovative but also used by tesla first. The innovation here is mainly the carbon fiber, not the bev.

      BMW can probably make a better m3 using the tech learned in the i3 and i8. Perhaps that needs to be built from the grounnd up. a phev m3 could greatly outsell the tesla S 😉 if they do it right.