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BMW i3 Electric Car Buyers: Mostly New To BMW (But Not i8 Owners)

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2014 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car owned by Tom Moloughney - in dealership showroom

2014 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car owned by Tom Moloughney - in dealership showroom

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The 2014 BMW i3 is proving to be very effective at luring new buyers to BMW--buyers who haven't before owned one of its cars.

Such buyers, known as conquests, are highly valued by carmakers, who have a much better chance of retaining a customer if they're already driving one of its vehicles.

The hard part is getting them there in the first place--and the BMW i3 turns out to be doing just that.

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2015 BMW i8 construction at Leipzig plant

2015 BMW i8 construction at Leipzig plant

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80 percent new to BMW

Fully 80 percent of i3 purchasers have never owned a BMW before, according to Ian Robertson, the company's board member for sales and marketing of vehicles with the BMW brand.

Their "provenance is mixed," as he told told trade journal Automotive News Europe last week: Some come from other premium brands (likely Audi or Mercedes-Benz), while others are stepping up mass-market brands.

A few buyers, most likely Europeans, have never before owned a car, but are attracted to the zero-emission nature of the i3 battery-electric version. (It can also be ordered with a small gasoline engine as a range extender.)

But the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sport coupe isn't bringing so many conquests, Robertson said. It's more likely to be bought by someone who's already a BMW owner--and, in fact, has quite a number of cars.

With the first i8 deliveries imminent, Robertson said, orders are coming from "lots of existing BMW customers looking to also add an i8 to their garages."

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First BMW i8s delivered to customers

First BMW i8s delivered to customers

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Electric cars lure conquests

Over the last three years, plug-in electric cars have turned out to be very effective at attracting conquest buyers.

The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf both lured in record levels of buyers new to the Chevy and Nissan brands.

In one anecdote, a Silicon Valley executive who decided he wanted to be one of the first Volt buyers in the country had no idea if there were a Chevrolet dealer nearby.

He did know the locations of local Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz dealers, as well as Honda and Toyota (because they sold hybrids).

But Chevy? He had no idea; no one he knew owned any Chevrolet.

He found his dealer, just 12 miles from his house, and bought the Volt. And he would never otherwise have considered walking into a Chevrolet dealership.

That's a valuable conquest.

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