Speaking with TMR at the Australian launch of the updated 3 Series, BMW Australia’s head of product planning, Shawn Ticehurst, discussed the new variant’s chances in this market.
“Discussions are really encouraging with Munich about getting it.” Mr Ticehurst said.
“I think here, the car can form a nice little niche initially, and then we’ll see growth.”
Taking the place of the previous ActiveHybrid 3 as the green flagship for the 3 Series range, the new 330e will offer up to 35km of electric range before switching to its high-output four-cylinder turbo petrol engine.
Fuel consumption is estimated to be as low as 2.1 l/100km on the combined cycle.
“You can do more with the electric range. A non-plug in hybrid you get around four km in electric mode, the plug-in hybrid you get around 30 km.” Mr Ticehurst enthused.
“If you’re driving it in peak hour traffic you could effectively do, for a lot of people, your daily commute on electricity only.”
If the idea sounds familiar, that’s because BMW already offers a similar concept as part of its forward-thinking i sub-brand, with the i3. Available as either a pure electric vehicle, or as an EV with range-extending petrol engine.
But rather than competing with the i3, Mr Ticehurst sees the 330e as a potential growth opportunity for the i range:
“If anything, it’s probably going to drive some interest in i3 and i8 as well.”
“We all know there’s going to be a lot of plug-in hybrids coming throughout the industry too, so there’s going to be a momentum behind these cars.”
“We know the whole range anxiety is a real thing for a lot of people. but, we’re still in such an early phase for the technology that some people might be worried about that, but this is a way to take that first step.”
Internationally, some of the interest in electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles stems from generous government incentives that can reduce the price of green vehicles compared to their regular internal combustion equivalents.
Despite no such incentives being offered in Australia, BMW doesn’t see this being a problem for the 330e.
Buyers of the i3 range haven’t been discouraged by the lack of green rebates, instead those models are attracting early adopters and automotive enthusiasts, drawn to the high-tech nature of the cars.
BMW expects that 330e buyers will be no different.
“From our point of view we have to take the lead and launch the cars, get the market acceptance, get some momentum behind it and see what happens.” Mr Ticehurst said.
“Australians aren’t going to benefit from government incentives, but I think people are intrigued by the technology.”
“We saw that with i3, a lot of the people buying i3 are interested in the technology or they were car enthusiasts.”
Pricewise, the outgoing ActiveHybrid 3 sat as the flagship of the 3 Series range, with a $100,200 list price. 330e buyers will instead be offered a more value oriented proposition, although final pricing is yet to be confirmed.
“It’ll be a lot sharper priced than ActiveHybrid 3, the old ActiveHybrid was based on the six-cylinder engine, so by default was a more expensive proposition.
“The new one is based on the four-cylinder so, it’s going to be much sharper priced, but we’re still finalising all that at the moment.”
Launching in Europe in March 2016, the 330e is still awaiting confirmation for Australia, but judging by the Australian outpost’s enthusiasm for the new model it isn’t hard to imagine seeing it here by mid-to late 2016, once the demand from high-volume green markets in the US and Europe have been met.