As it goes, we sometimes try out cars that never make it to this market, but this one was especially bittersweet because it happened right here in our own back yard. BMW Malaysia’s invitation to sample the BMW i3 electric car at its headquarters in Cyberjaya yesterday offered a tantalising glimpse of what could have been with Munich’s little EV.
Could have, because it’s not coming to Malaysia, despite it being here. It turned out that the sampling session was arranged after some of the motoring press fraternity shared photos of the mule via the social media route, leading to speculation that the car could be coming this way. To which BMW Malaysia’s CEO Dr Gerhard Pils stated, at the conclusion of the test session, that it was not.
A bit of an extended route taken to say that the i3 isn’t going to be launched here, yes, but there it is. No BMW i3 for us, period.
As to why the EV is in Cyberjaya, the reason is simple enough – the brand’s regional training centre is located within the premises, and the car (actually, two) is here for the purpose of training personnel. Markets like Singapore and Australia will be getting the car, the latter in November, hence the need to get familiar with it.
Meanwhile, all we’re left with is this, a very brief impression of a car you can’t get your hands on. The short two-lap course inside the BMW office compound didn’t offer a comprehensive take on things, but the EV’s response and go is undeniable – it’s zippy, as you’d expect, and it’s silent, as you’d also expect.
More than decent push offered by the 170 hp and 250 Nm synchronous electric motor mounted in the rear. A couple of corners even offered the suggestion of crisp handling higher up the speed spectrum, despite that offered by the car’s physical bulk and visually-uninspiring thin tyres.
Of note is the active park assist feature – the fully-automated system, with both brake and throttle control, is operated by a single press of a push-button, and works a charm. The interior can best be described as novel; for sure, the material and trim is visually captivating, especially the organic stuff. Paul’s comprehensive report on the i3 from the Beijing part of the debut last August makes for thorough reading if you’re interested in the rest of the car.
Not that it matters, unless you’re an anorak interested in the i3. The ideas offered by the car are engaging, intriguing even, but all moot in the end, at least for Malaysians – the lack of incentives or tax exemption for EVs (and energy efficient vehicles), unless they’re built here, means that the i3 would simply not be competitive cost-wise, and thus a non-starter.
Build it here then, you say? Only one BMW plant is able to handle the manufacture of the i3 globally, and that’s in Leipzig, and the situation doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. Venturing the idea that an assembly plant here would solve that would be to ignore the fact that our market isn’t large enough to obtain the production volume needed to offset all that initial spend, which would be significant.
Shame about that missed chance then. Therein lies the irony brought about by the National Automotive Policy 2014, which is supposed to propagate energy efficient vehicles in a big way – here’s an energy efficient vehicle in the truest sense of the word, and it can’t find its way in through the door, at least commercially.
Granted, even with tax relief, the BMW i3 isn’t going to be a cheap proposition, and it isn’t a car for everyone, but the point is really about choice and the ability to make that. Actually, it’s not just with something like the i3, which is arguably niche – the lack of resolution on a topic like Euro IV is perhaps more pertinent in determining choices, or more rightfully choices that are determined for us in the end. And so the loop plays on.