At BMW Australia's range day last Friday, members of the motoring press were gathered to drive the full fleet of BMW, Mini and BMW Motorrad products, and spend some time with BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner. Werner had some thoughts on BMW's future in a self-driving world, and a strong message to send to the Australian government on its lack of support for hybrid and electric low-emission vehicles. Here's a partial transcript.
Where are you at with autonomous driving, and where does a prestige brand like BMW fit in a future self-driving world?
That's a very interesting subject. As you might have seen, we've recently announced a joint venture with Intel and MobilEye. Mobileye will provide the necessary camera systems for our vehicles, and Intel brings the necessary processors on the software and the hardware side in order to further boost the autonomous driving technology in our vehicles.
The interesting thing is, those cars already exist. We're not talking about five or 10 or 15 years down the road, those cars already exist, and as we speak they're already doing some extensive test driving – mainly in Europe, in Germany close to our R&D centers – but those cars exist, and it's a matter of time as far as legislation is concerned, and in particular insurance policy, when these cars can actually be launched.
But we're working very hard towards a goal with the rollout of the BMW i-next model, as we call it, to launch autonomous driving by the beginning of the next decade. So it's all happening. And it's quite exciting, I have to say.
We believe that the industry model is going to change substantially, and that's why our vision is to become the premium mobility provider. And that basically means we'll provide a mobility solution for our customer. You don't necessarily have to own a car in the future any more, but when you have a mobility need, you'll be able to call a vehicle and a car will pick you up.
So the autonomous technology will enable that, and that's quite exciting, going forward. We're talking about probably five years from now.
Will sales reduce? Not necessarily, but the ownership model will change. It's not necessary that you will have to own or buy a vehicle, you'll be a position to pick up a phone and call a mobile service provider, and a car will arrive. We will definitely see a substantial change in the ownership model, and what that will look like, the future will tell us, and the customers will tell us.
Do you see BMW owning and operating its own fleet of self driving cars, or more as a supplier to, say, Uber Autonomous?
That's a question that our corporate strategy department at our headquarters is currently debating – whether we should team up with rental car companies and the like, or those companies which you've just mentioned. There's no final decision yet on what the future is going to look like, or what the business model is going to look like. But we have a very clear vision, as I mentioned before. We want to be the premium mobile service provider going forward, and this definitely includes the production of vehicles and manufacturing of vehicles and the sale of vehicles.
But again, I believe going forward the business model will change. What the business model looks like remains to be seen. But there's a lot of disruption in that place.
You seem to be keen to send a message to the Australian government, in particular, about its lack of support for low emissions vehicles?
I think there are some best practices from other markets we see around the globe. I'm speaking about Norway, for example, where the government has correctly decided to focus on supporting electric vehicle mobility, and has subsequently decided to put necessary financial incentives to encourage consumers to buy this technology.
Incentives play a major role in order to lift electric mobility, but it's also about the necessary infrastructure that needs to come with it. In particular in Australia, there's a great opportunity for the government to pursue this. We've done our fair bit of lobbying, but we need to see more from the Australian government.
As far as BMW i sales are concerned in Australia, it's really not about the numbers. We'll talk about numbers once the infrastructure is there and the necessary framework, which doesn't currently exist. So, so far it's not a volume game.
First of all, I believe there's no reason to continue with the luxury car tax, since the cessation of local production in Australia. There's technically or theoretically no reason to continue with the tax the way it's formalized at the moment. We'd love to see a more creative or intelligent way of incentivizing low emission vehicles.
We can look at New Zealand, perhaps, as a role model, as far as electric mobility is concerned. I would love it to be the other way around. I think Australia can do much better, and we should do much better.