BMW (BMWG.DE) has transformed its “i” division into a development center for self-driving cars, a board member stated.
While Tesla’s (TSLA.O) Model 3 will be in showrooms in 2017, the German carmaker appears to have all-electric cars on the back burner with its next fully-electric car not due until 2021.
Tesla has already received more than 370,000 orders for its Model 3, although its only fully battery-powered car, the i3, failed to gain traction with the public, with only 25,000 sales last year.
Now its main focus will be on developing an electric car with the next generation of technology: autonomous driving.
In an interview at the company’s headquarters in Munich, BMW board member Klaus Froehlich; said he had relaunched the i division in April as a unit devoted to producing cars that drive themselves.
Currently BMW is hiring experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and also integrating the functions of existing computer driven assistance systems like cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keeping support and automatic parking.
BMW could launch a ride-hailing business without having to pay drivers; with a fully autonomous vehicle, said Froehlich.
On the other hand, this month Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said it would invest in Uber, while Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) announced a $300 million investment in Gett, a smaller ride-sharing company.
Moreover, BMW may partner with a ride-hailing firm according to Froehlich said.
China, being the world’s largest car market, might be the market where autonomous cars will first emerge on a large scale, Froehlich said.
“China is extremely fast implementing technology. Last year more electric cars were sold in China than in all the other global markets combined,” he added.
BMW is also considering expanding in the area of reserving parking spaces and electric car charging stations over mobile phones, a market which is still fragmented within countries. The carmaker has already invested in ParkNow and Parkmobile, two digital parking and payment services.
“We want to actively participate in a consolidation process,” Froehlich said.