BMW unveils an electric car to compete with Tesla and the Chinese BYD

BMW’s high-end Neue Klasse models will have a range of up to 800 km.

BMW AG presented the first prototype of its future electric car range, starting a new phase in the struggle to catch up with Tesla Inc. And to defend sales in its most important market in China.

The Vision Neue Klasse concept car, which will be shown at next week’s IAA show in Munich, demonstrates the foundations for BMW’s custom electric vehicles due in 2025 – just as Mercedes-Benz Group AG presents its new battery-powered models. Software issues have delayed similar designs from Volkswagen, delaying flagship Porsche and Audi vehicles.

With the elegant coupe, BMW is breaking with a decades-old tradition of advertising mainly performance as “ultimate driving machines”. Instead, it touts a full-width digital windshield display as well as software that can process voice commands and hand gestures. The move is a signal to customers in China, who are increasingly turning to local brands such as BYD Co., Ltd. and Nio Inc. that were better at building electric vehicles with tools geared to local tastes.

CEO Oliver Zipse said the Neue Klasse Hotel “sets our course for the decades to come”.

BMW, Mercedes and Audi have long dominated sales of premium combustion engine cars in China, but they have been faltered by the country’s rapid shift to electric vehicles.

BYD this year overtook VW as the best-selling automaker in China, and Mercedes slashed prices for its flagship electric sedan there late last year after disappointing sales. Electric and hybrid vehicles are expected to account for 90% of the world’s largest auto market by the end of this decade, adding to the urgency of premium Western brands to accelerate their offerings. The price war in China initiated by Tesla also added to the pressure.

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Zipsi told reporters on Saturday in Munich that BMW is growing in China, especially in the field of electric vehicles, and the automaker is not affected by the price war due to its position in the premium segment. He added that the Neue Klasse would be more profitable than the company’s current lineup of battery cars.

BMW’s high-end Neue Klasse models will have a range of 800 km (497 miles) and will charge from 10% to 80% in less than half an hour, figures that likely wouldn’t make them best-in-class. Last year, a Mercedes electric prototype traveled more than 1,000 kilometers on a single charge.

But BMW still ranks second in China when it comes to tech features in its cars, according to a recent consumer survey by consulting firm AlixPartners. BMW came in behind Geely’s Zeekr but ahead of Xpeng, Tesla and VW.

Despite the new focus on digital features, BMW will not abandon its brand traditions entirely. While most electric cars these days offer brisk acceleration, the Neue Klasse will be more fun to drive at higher speeds than many competitors, according to Zipse.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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