#Cleanwebcity Interviews: BMW iVentures
On November 12-13, Cleantech Group and The Cleanweb Initiative are co-hosting “Cleanweb and the City,” the first senior executive summit on cleanweb. In the lead up to the summit, Cleantech Group is catching up with leaders in NYC cleanweb to learn more about what the rise of cleanweb means for start-ups, corporates, investors, and the overall innovation landscape. Click here to learn more about Cleanweb and the City and request an invite.
Ulrich Quay, Managing Director, BMW i Ventures
Some corporates seem to be either unsure of, or even hostile towards, disruptive cleanweb applications like sharing platforms. BMW seems to have embraced the potential in this space. How do you view the opportunity in cleanweb for a company like BMW?
We’ve been studying mobility needs in the future. There’s a lot of potential, especially in urban areas, for BMW to play an important role here. We view it as, instead of customers having no BMW experience, we rather they have an experience through mobility services. For our parents and grandparents, they were saving their money for a car. Mobility behavior for people today has clearly changed, and a company like BMW has to be part of that future.
We have our own car sharing program DriveNow in 5 cities across Germany and in San Francisco. People look at the app, reserve BMW cars, and return them around the city. It’s very useful for people who don’t want to own a car, but want to use one. It’s really a win-win for the city, the environment, and us. Thirty percent of traffic in the city is people looking for parking spaces. On the other hand, we make money from fees and also attract younger and new customers. People using the service are about 10 years younger than our typical buyer. We think these will be our buyers in the future when they have a family, move to a new home, and so on.
Can you talk about the BMW iVentures approach to identifying promising companies? What are some of the areas you’re most interested in?
We’re making investments in mobility services companies in urban areas. We’ve made eight investments so far, including Life360 and ChargePoint. There’s about $100 million available to make investments over the next few years. We want to invest in services – we’re not a technology investor. BMW has always been a strong technology provider, but this is the next level. We would only invest in technology if a service goes with it.
Since our investment sector is clearly defined, it’s about picking the winner who has the most promise. The best way to figure that out is looking at what the consumer prefers – examining applications ratings, for example. Then we talk to the management. Finally it’s about being able to invest. We usually don’t have many controversial discussions within our team.
We want to integrate mobility services into the car, allowing customers to drop their car off and continue their mobility experience through public transit, for example. But it’s a long-term play for us. If we invest in a three-person company, we don’t ask them to re-build something specifically for BMW. It’s not realistic.
When it comes to electric vehicles (EVs), what’s more challenging: building out the infrastructure or the supporting services and behaviors that enable the infrastructure to function?
With EVs, it’s about giving people the confidence that they can charge the car when they need to. There are different ways to tackle the connected problem. We’re working with ChargePoint to increase the number of chargers. You’d be surprised by how many stations you can find in a given area on the app. On the corporate side we’re doing our bit to make the infrastructure available with our own charging service ChargeNow and our all-electric vehicle BMW i3. It’s also important that people get reliable information about availability of charging stations. You don’t want to annoy people by telling them a station is available when it’s not.
There are bound to be some bumps for consumers like what you just described. How demanding are consumers in expecting perfect performance from a still-new sector like cleanweb?
Early adopters know that the system isn’t perfect, but they’re happy to be early adopters. It will be challenging when you go beyond early adopters to people who are less willing to compromise. My impression from EV drivers is that they are willing to go the extra mile to use a sustainable vehicle. Other groups expect the same level of comfort that they have with gasoline-powered cars, and then it’s important that the services be there.