Focusing on Sustainability is Not the Right Way to Sell the BMW i3


Eucalyptus...Oh Boy!!!

Eucalyptus…Oh Boy!!!

BMW feverishly pitches its plug-in i3 as one of the world’s most sustainable automobiles.

Not a Selling Point: Do I See Kepac Plant In There?

Not a Selling Point: Do I See Kenaf  Plant In There?

From the olive oil used to tan the leather, to the responsibly harvested eucalyptus used within, BMW is keen on pointing out that the i3 is all about sustainability.

There’s hemp within.  Some Kenaf plant is used for fibers.  The plastic panels inside comes mostly from recycled materials and even the power used at the i3 factory comes from the wind.

But does any of this matter?

Yes, it certainly does.  The use of sustainable materials is something we commend BMW for, but it’s not what will sell the i3.

Sure, there are likely a handful of buyers out there who will see the Eucalyptus within and say “that’s why I bought it,” but the vast majority of potential buyers won’t care.

The i3 will sell based on looks, performance, price and brand name.

Looks Sell

Looks Sell

Sustainability is something that automakers have pitched for at a least a decade now, but never once have we seen a study where it’s proven that sustainable materials sell vehicles.

For the geeks within us all, let us know that sustainable materials are used, but please don’t waste time, money and effort by trying to sell a vehicle based on it sustainable aspects to the public.

It’s wasted effort.

Instead, focus on those 4 features that sell: looks, performance, price and brand name.

Category: BMW


19 responses to "Focusing on Sustainability is Not the Right Way to Sell the BMW i3"
  1. Johannes Groeneweg says:

    This type of attitude is what lead us to the need to take drastic measures to correct the damage we have done to this earth. We as consumers MUST take stake on buying products that reduce the impact on our environment. Yes, you are probably right that it should not be the main marketing message (it won’t sell), but it should be included as the corporate roadmap and therefore it should be part of the overall presentation. Great job BMW!

    Owner of a Tesla and BMW Active E.

  2. Interesting take. I guess by “brand” you mean “implicit quality” or “implicit status” or something like that. Because selling based on “brand” isn’t really any attribute of the product itself. I’ll agree with the looks, performance, price … though I think EVs are getting people to consider the total cost of ownership, as they should have already, instead of just the sticker price. Sustainability is something only the environmental purists care about – I agree. And though there are probably a pretty big segment of EV drivers that do care about it, there probably aren’t many potential i3 buyers that do. They’d more likely buy a Leaf, or just keep riding their bicycle.

  3. pjwood says:

    I agree, and would keep sustainable details away from the active purchasing process. Let folks search and find it, and not be confronted by it. Many want a car, not a mindset.

    1. David Murray says:

      Exactly. Trying to sell a car on its eco-friendliness is like trying to sell fat-free ice-cream. Sure, there’s a small market for it. But no matter how good that fat-free ice-cream tastes, most people will grab the regular ice-cream on the shelf next to it. Fortunately, if the ice-cream tastes good enough, you can put the same ice-cream in a different box and NOT advertise it as fat-free and so you get to sell the same product to two different markets. That’s not as easy to do with a car. So I agree, market the car for what appeals to the mainstream and make those few who are interested in oilve-oil and whatnot research that and buy the car based on that research.

  4. EV says:

    i3 is ugly

  5. Rich says:

    Eric, as a fellow geek I completely agree. I’m happy that BMW is engaged in sustainability practices. However, from my POV, the BMW i3 doesn’t have a customer desirability issue. The BMW i3 has a lack of inventory issue. They need to supply the i3 to the U.S. in ALL States.
    The 5 criteria for my next car are slightly different than the 4 mentioned.
    In no certain order:
    1) NO GAS needed – This means delivery of a real 100 miles of range. With Eco Pro+ this might be possible in the BMW i3. I’m waiting to see what the EPA rating comes in at.
    2) Functional space – can 4 adults go to lunch in it? Can I put the seats down and haul a 60″ TV or a chest of drawers?
    3) Seasonal functionality – How does it handle in snow? Is RWD (Rear Wheel Drive) going to suck in snow? If not, this will be the first RWD vehicle I’ve ever had in snow that didn’t perform poorly. Does it lose 40% of the battery range because the; heater, windshield wipers, and headlights are on.
    4) What’s the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) – am I going to save money using this vehicle?
    5) Quality – is the EV going to perform with good reliability

    Not to say the 4 listed aren’t considered:
    Performance – I don’t need a rocket for a car, but I require a car that will keep up with traffic.
    Looks – While it’s important to have a car that isn’t offensively ugly, I’m in it for the tech and the ability to get off of oil.
    Brand Name – only comes into play in considering reliability / quality. I have no desire to spend $40K and be stranded on the side of the road because of manufacturer defects.
    Price – The EV must be affordable. At low $30k (after tax incentives), the BMW i3 is a little high but not terrible. I’m waiting to see what price the Mercedes Benz B-Class Electric will sell for and if the MB is going to be a compliance car or offered across the U.S.

  6. Todd Crook says:

    While I don’ agree it’s a “wasted effort”, I do agree that the fun to drive, exciting performance side is something that needs to me emphasized more than BMW has been doing. Advertising can be targeted to certain markets, groups, countries, etc. We do this in my line of work every day. With that said, I can’t recall one time with the MINI E or now the ActiveE when someone has approached me and inquired about the materials the car is made from or if the bumper is made from recycled water bottles, etc….it’s always about range and how does it drive. You can see folks eyes start to widen when you start talking about the instant torque, lack of shift points, etc. All the other points are added bonuses one gets. To strictly focus on the sustainability side of marketing a car when dealing with wide spread advertising is a mistake. It’s better used in target marketing. I expect to soon see a more balanced marketing campaign with a strong emphasis on the fun to drive, single pedal driving, quick smooth acceleration and probably most importantly, the i3 is a BMW and what’s a BMW?…. the Ultimate Driving Machine. All the sustainability talk without a balance of the other points may start to fog folks minds as they trail off into lands of hemp filled seats and wood panels from trees grown with purified toilet water while completely forgetting what BMW stands for. What people may need to be reminded of is that the Ultimate Driving Machine lives on in a new package that not only compliments the vehicles that have held that mantra for years but now moves the brand forward. I’m confident the BMW marketing machine will soon unveil all these points and more as the launch gets closer.

  7. danwat1234 says:

    I wonder how it corners with the skinny tires it comes with.

    1. Justin W. says:

      Quite well. The contact patch is long and the tires are low profile. This is the perfect setup for efficiency. Wide tires create too much drag and rolling resistance. This assumes the tire is designed for efficiency with reduced hysteresis.

  8. Dennis says:

    Why not offer all these green materials as a option, sort of like an eco-tax? If people care about that sort of thing, they’d be willing to pay more for it.

  9. Anton Wahlman says:

    I am so sick and tired of hearing the word “sustainable” that I’m about to puke when I hear it these days. I don’t give the first crap about my car being “sustainable.” I just want the best car at a price that I can afford. The only thing that’s not sustainable is me spending more money than I make. The BMW i3 has a beautiful design inside and out: That’s what is going to sell the car.

  10. Aaron says:

    There are two schools of thought with EVs:

    1. I’m gonna save the Earth!
    2. I’m gonna save some money!

    They’re just catering to the first group. I’m part of the second group.

    1. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

      3. I’m gonna starve the ay-rabs and keep money in this country!
      4. I’m gonna drive in silence with wonderful gobs of torque!

      1. evnow says:

        You mean starve the Texans and Canadians ?

  11. George B says:

    I agree with the premise of this article and most of the comments. Hopefully, the i3 will be known as a car, which will put a smile on your face because of the way it drives. As an added bonus, you can feel good about driving it. Not the other way around.

  12. evnow says:

    I think this article has a point – but makes it in a bad way.

    I care about EVs because that is what makes them sustainable.

    If you just talk about brand, looks, performance and price, you could get an ICE.

  13. ModernMarvelFan says:

    Most of the Tesla buyers didn’t buy it b/c it is EV or sustainable. They bought it b/c it is darn good car and priced relatively the same as other cars.

    I know plenty of BMW and Porsche buyers who bought Model S but none of them would ever touch LEAF, Volt or Prius….

  14. Anders says:

    It is like the topping on a cake. So for sure it has some mental effect that make you feel that you are doing the right thing when choosing i3 and the other people will give you cred for choosing i3.

  15. Just_chris says:

    How many ev buyers would buy a car made in a coal powered factory filled with child workers, yes it has to be green that’s the point. How many times have we read stories attacking the hybrid and ev vehciles about their cradle to grave foot print? Hopefully by bmw making such a song and dance about this now we won’t have to put up with non sense about total life emmisions. Let’s hope they have an equally slick story about battery saftey.