|BMW chief executive Norbert Reithofer (also seen on the screen) and other board members attend the carmaker’s annual results press conference on Wednesday at BMW Welt in Munich. (BMW Korea)|
MUNICH ― German luxury carmaker BMW pinned high hopes on Asia, including Korea, for sales of its emissions-free, electric vehicles in the long term, though it is focusing more resources on Europe and the United States for now.
“The i3 cars will definitely have a strong role to play in Asia such as Korea, China and Japan. These countries have the biggest cities in the world, which the i3 is targeting,” BMW board member for sales and marketing Ian Robertson told The Korea Herald on Wednesday.
The Korean unit of BMW has secured the first batch of 250 units of the i3, the Munich-based carmaker’s first full-electric model that goes on sale in April in Korea. The number may be small but the company’s ambition seems big enough.
The Korean government plans to offer incentives for 1,000 electric vehicles purchased this year, which means BMW aims to claim 25 percent of government support in a market where the powerful Korean duo of Hyundai and its affiliate Kia dominates almost 80 percent of car sales.
BMW, the best-selling foreign car brand in Korea, sold 39,558 units of its Mini, Rolls-Royce and BMW cars in 2013, accounting for about 3 percent of the country’s total car sales. With its flagship 7 Series limousine especially popular, Korea is BMW’s fourth-largest market.
“Korea is important for us, with BMW’s sales almost tripling there over the past five years,” said the sales chief of BMW.
“There are some other markets in Europe which haven’t gotten that many yet,” he added, citing government support, including incentives and charging infrastructure, as key factors for pushing i3 cars into the market.
The carmaker earlier predicted sales of some 30,000 units of the i3 this year. Due to the high-demand and supply constraints, it currently takes some six months for the car buyer to receive the vehicle.
At the company’s annual results press conference on Wednesday, BMW also reiterated its aim to sell 2 million or more cars in 2014, of which Korean sales are expected to make up some 40,000 units, according to BMW Korea.
“In the first two months of the year, we have already sold around 274,000 cars ― more than any of our competitors. This is the best start to a year we have ever had,” said BMW’s chief executive Norbert Reithofer.
Last year, the carmaker delivered a record 1.96 million cars, hitting the No. 1 spot in the premium segment. For the first time, its car sales exceeded more than half a million vehicles in Asia in one year ― almost 580,000 units.
The legendary CEO also pledged that the carmaker will strive to grow further by enhancing expertise in future technologies such as electric mobility and lightweight construction. To achieve this, the company has invested about 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) in vocational training and professional development programs.
“In 2016, BMW will mark its 100th anniversary ― a historic milestone. We will not be looking in the rear view mirror but focusing on the road ahead,” he said. “We will be starting from pole position in creating and defining future mobility.”
By Lee Ji-yoon, Korea Herald correspondent