Benoit Jacob, the i8’s designer, has been joined by Dirk Adenbroth, Henrik Wenders and Carsten Breitfeld - all key figures in the development of BMW’s electric vehicles.
While Tencent Holdings and Foxconn have no experience in cars, let alone electric cars, a third partner, China Harmony New Energy Auto Holding Ltd., is a well established luxury car dealer across China.
It’s an ambitious move by the Chinese start-up and an indication of China’s seriousness about tackling some of the worst air pollution in the world. China’s government sees electric cars as playing a major role in reducing the problem.
It’s also a move that could prove disruptive to BMW and other electric vehicle makers if the Chinese company’s deep pockets lure other key experts from Germany and elsewhere. BMW is considered a leader in electric vehicles among Germany’s carmakers, a position that might now be under threat. It was already struggling against its American competitor Tesla. BMW is remaining tight-lipped about the defection of its core personnel.
China is one of the world’s biggest markets for electric vehicles with sales of 250,000 vehicles in 2015 – that’s an increase of 450% over the previous year.
BMW’s electric vehicle sales, by contrast, have not been so stellar. Last year they sold 24,057 i3 models, and 5,456 i8 models - a 66% increase in BMW electric division sales. While BMW’s electric vehicles seem destined for a niche market, Tesla, Nissan (with its Leaf) and the fledgling Chinese start-up have their eyes firmly on the prize of the mass-market.