BMW has cancelled plans to sell the all-electric iX3 in the U.S., but the reason remains a mystery. The news first came to bear with the Concept i4 BMW USA press release, which mentions the iX3 and then immediately notes that it is not currently planned for the U.S. market. A handful of auto news websites picked up on this, including Automotive News, which reached out to BMW. The response included a statement which confirmed the press release, but no further explanation.
There has been no shortage of speculation though, and much of it centers around demand for EVs in the U.S., European regulations, limited range, and a lack of xDrive. As we have noted here before, although BMW has made a concerted effort pushing iNext as the EV that’s going to revolutionize everything, models like the i4 and iX3 may actually be more important when looking at the current EV market. Today, BMW’s volume products are vehicles like the X3 and 3 Series, and it’s obvious to see that the iX3 and i4 are electric versions of these for the next automotive generation. BMW development chief Klaus Fröhlich effectively confirmed this when he described the i4 as a battery-powered 3 Series.
Although it’s no longer coming here, we envisioned the iX3 as a great entry-level electric SAV that would compete in a market at a lower price point than other electrified SUVs. That’s not the case according to others though, who suggest that the limited range of the iX3 would have translated to limited sales in the U.S., where how far you can drive matters more than most other large vehicle markets. Although the production specifications for the iX3 were promising, the range figures were based on the optimistic European WLTP cycle standards. In the real world, 270 miles with the largest 74 kWh battery setup would be more like 200–220 miles or so, which simply isn’t enough, especially when other electrical competitors in its segment can be optioned with greater capacity.
To make a strong value proposition in the U.S., the iX3 would need more like 250 miles of range, while 300 would be truly optimal. Speaking of competitiveness, launching the iX3 exclusively in rear-drive form was another point of contention. Over the last decade, the trend toward AWD for cars from sedans to crossovers seems like it’s been growing in the U.S., and going to market with an electric SAV that does not benefit from xDrive seems like an odd choice.
Limited range and a lack of xDrive both seem like they might equate to reduced demand for a vehicle such as the iX3, and this brings to mind a third potential reason why an electric version of BMW’s most popular current model may not be coming to its second-largest national auto market. This factor resides with European emissions regulations, which are continuing to legislate the internal combustion engine out of existence while simultaneously pushing electromobility. BMW and Mercedes-Benz both face the potential for heavy fines if they do not continue transitioning their fleets over to electric at a swift pace. Given that the European market has proven far more receptive to alternative forms of automotive propulsion, it makes sense to divert supply where something like an iX3 has a much better chance of actually selling.
Finally, prioritizing supply for markets with high EV take rates brings to mind another potential reality surrounding the iX3, one that we haven’t seen any other auto news media outlet mention. Although it’s common knowledge, it bears stating that the iX3 is manufacturing exclusively in China, at the BMW Brilliance production facility in Shenyang. Although Shenyang is far from the epicenter of the novel human coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, located in the Hubei province, and the plant has resumed operations after the outbreak, it did face a period of extended closure. How much this has effected supply is not known, but China’s entire manufacturing base as a whole is still operating at a fraction of capacity, and the future remains uncertain. With all of this in question, it’s probably in BMW’s best interests to play it safe, and divert iX3 supply to where it will be most effective—Europe and China.
Whether or not an iX3 with increased range and xDrive will ever make it here remains to be seen, but doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility considering updates to the platform it rides on are in the works.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]