When BMW began development of an electric car, it took a bold step - launching a new in-house initiative with a remit to rethink what a car is. Dr Alexander Kotouc, head of product management at BMWi, asks how this approach could reap benefits in the superyacht industry.
Back in 2006, there was a board meeting at the BMW Group. A key area of discussion was the strategy for dealing with the growing problem of urban air pollution, the increasingly demanding emissions regulations and the changing mindset of consumers. It all added up to a lot of challenges for a company that for 100 years had been really good at building and selling cars. What do you do in this situation?
This is the crucial point - our board was bold. They realised that the only way to solve the problems of the future was to start from scratch, and the result was Project i. The Project i team was given the freedom you might expect from a start-up company, and they were basically allowed to reinvent the car. That was the magic in the BMWi strategy because we let the team think completely freely, talk to customers and find out what their needs and wishes were for new mobility features.
The result is what you now see on the streets with the BMW i3 and i8 which are both radically different from what you know as standard combustion-engine cars. We completely redefined what a car should look like. I think the superyacht industry has similar issues with decades of building superyachts one way, and if you were to build a superyacht with an all-electric drivetrain you'd really have to reconsider everything you had previously learnt.
We completely redefined what a car should look like. I think the superyacht industry has similar issues with decades of building superyachts one way, and if you were to build a superyacht with an all-electric drivetrain you'd really have to reconsider everything you had previously learnt.
For BMWi, we are always thinking about what technology will offer in five or even 10 years' time because from our point of view it's the only way to develop a sound strategic process. But it goes further; if you are looking to solve problems such as air quality or the problems you see in megacities, it's not enough just to build an electric car. It's also about the manufacturing and the lifecycle of the vehicle. So we also looked at how to produce a car in a way that significantly lowers the overall CO2 footprint. The result is that the i3 and i8 are built in carbon fibre produced by SGL Group, a US company that operates solely on green hydropower. Moreover, our own Leipzig plant is powered by windmills which means the i3 has a 33 per cent smaller CO2 footprint compared to a standard car.
So what of the future? We take it as a given that autonomous vehicles are the next step. It gives the consumer completely new options of how to make use of their time in the car - that could be reading a book or online shopping. It gives us, as a mobility provider, the chance to interact with consumers in a completely different way, and it also requires another complete rethink of the car. Indeed, we have a project called Interior of the Future that is looking at how the standard car interior layout can be reimagined.
However, the core of all our future thinking comes down to the ethos behind the Project i team, and here I would say we have the most creative and innovative designers in the market. It makes sense when you are talking about new technologies to get new design teams from other industries and from different geographic areas, and you always have to look at what is happening in all areas of culture. Perhaps this approach to design is what the superyacht industry can learn from most of all.
Dr Alexander Kotouc joined the BMW Group in 2007 and is currently head of BMWi product management within BMW
This article originally appeared in The Superyacht Report, following Dr Kotouc's presentation at The Superyacht Forum.
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