Automotive

BMW Australia's CEO: The autonomous future will cause major disruption

BMW Australia's CEO: The auton...
BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner with members of the Australian motoring press
BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner with members of the Australian motoring press
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BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner with members of the Australian motoring press
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BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner with members of the Australian motoring press
BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner speaks at BMW's 2017 range day 
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BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner speaks at BMW's 2017 range day 
BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner has a strong message for the Australian government on its lack of incentives for low-emissions vehicles.
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BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner has a strong message for the Australian government on its lack of incentives for low-emissions vehicles.
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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.

BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner has a strong message for the Australian government on its lack of incentives for low-emissions vehicles.
BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner has a strong message for the Australian government on its lack of incentives for low-emissions vehicles.

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.

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4 comments
ChrisStanton
Does anyone actually want a self driving car.
Bob Flint
Chris, Not if it's only 90% reliable costs 3 or 4 times the price of a standard vehicle, and is still decades off from becoming a reality at 100% failsafe.
f8lee
For the past 18 months I've made these kinds of comments as to the sea change the auto industry will suffer when (not if, but when - technological progress is exponential in nature and I do think we will see this happen in the next 10 years) autonomous vehicles are the norm. When one is purchasing transport from point A to point B, why purchase the vehicle that gets you there? When one flies from New York to Miami they could care less who the manufacturer of the airplane is, they are merely renting a seat for the trip.
As a result, the car manufacturers will have to cozy up to whoever it is that provides the rentable seats and make fleet sales to them. And brand recognition will become passé - it will be a "race to the bottom" of TCO for the Uber-type companies that will own the vehicles.
Magnetron
People called taxis to come and pick them up in my day. Why is an autonomous vehicle better in that respect? I do an average of 12,000 miles a year and paid my second-hand car off years ago so to drive it I only pay fuel, insurance and tax. I am an engineer so maintenance costs close to zero. My car physically could not be cheaper to run so how will calling a taxi/autonomous vehicle help me? Also, one thing nobody seems to mention is how you heat a battery powered car for personal comfort and screen de-misting on long journeys in sub-zero temperatures?