BMW looks to the crowd

21 April 2011

NEW YORK: BMW, the automaker, is leveraging crowdsourcing and digital media to stimulate interest in its future range of electric vehicles.

The German multinational is unlikely to roll out an electric vehicle (EV) in the US before 2013, but hopes to fuel awareness and demand in the meantime via a variety of initiatives.

"We need to attempt to understand behavior and create a culture first, and we need to start early and broad," Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy, BMW North America, told the Wall Street Journal.

One tool for achieving these goals is a mobile app, currently available for the iPhone and soon to be accessible through handsets powered by Google Android.

Among the objectives of the EVolve application, according to BMW, is to "open drivers' minds" about the possibilities offered by eco-friendly cars.

More specifically, it will let consumers assess their existing transport patterns compared with other individuals on a dedicated website.

Having processed such information, the app then demonstrates any benefits covering cost savings or environmental impact which could result from switching to a greener model.

Users may also earn "reward badges" that can be shared on social media platforms, encouraging word of mouth.

"With the EVolve app, BMW intends to help foster a wider acceptance of electric vehicles," said Steinberg.

"The discussion must break down barriers in the mind of the average driver as he or she is confronted with automobile purchase decisions ahead."

While developing the EVolve app, BMW partnered with people who took part in a trial of the MINI E electric vehicle, which began in 2009.

In sharing their views, this group set up a Facebook page without prompting from BMW, yielding crucial findings.

For example, there was a common feeling cold weather exerted a negative effect on battery longevity, leading to design modifications for the second-generation EV prototype, the ActiveE.

Later in 2011, BMW is to ask 1,100 drivers to test the ActiveE, a forerunner of the planned i3 and i8, and share opinions online and offline.

"During our first field trial with the MINI E Pioneers, we saw the value in collective engineering," said Steinberg.

"It is a testament that the dialogue between drivers will be as essential with the ActiveE trial as it is to our engineers in preparation for the BMW i3 and i8."

BMW argued the EVolve app built on previous attempts at "collective engineering", like a documentary series called Wherever You Want To Go, featuring experts debating the potential evolution of mobility.

It has also created several online forums targeted at netizens wishing to examine issues surrounding EVs and similar themes.

Tom Moloughney, a member of the Mini E panel and regular blogger about BMW's output in this area, suggested the company was moving in the right direction.

"What's going to sell the cars won't be so much advertising but people talking to their friends and other people who have them," he said.

"We who have been living with these cars have become the authority on them."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal/BMW; additional content by Warc staff