BMW unveils a new electric car, but says it isn’t counting out gas engines just yet

On Wednesday, BMW unveiled the i4, the latest addition to its line of electric cars. And while the luxury automaker plans to add more electric vehicles to its lineup, it made clear that it will still make cars with gas engines for the foreseeable future.

BMW chairman Oliver Zipse said in an online press conference, the company will keep developing, building and selling cars with internal combustion engines, including plug-in hybrids.

“If there are no customers [for these vehicles] in our 140 markets, we will stop producing them,” he said.

This is a departure from some of the other major automakers. While not firmly committing itself, General Motors has said it plans to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Volvo announced recently it will become a fully electric car brand by 2030. BMW, however, is not putting any timeline on when, or if, it will become an all-electric carmaker.

But at some point, it may have very little choice. Some countries and states have said they plan to ban sales of internal combustion-powered cars in the not-very-distant future. Great Britan and the US state of California have proposed bans on sales of internal combustion-powered vehicles, including hybrids, by 2035. Norway wants all new passenger cars and vans sold in that country to be zero-emissions by 2025.

BMW’s strategy has long been to maintain flexibility in its engineering as it develops new vehicles so that its factories can shift quickly and easily from producing purely internal combustion cars to producing plug-in hybrids or electric cars as market demand shifts. The underlying engineering architectures for BMW vehicles is designed to make it easy for them to be built with electric, hybrid or purely internal combustion power.

“We are much more flexible than the world thinks we are,” Zipse said.

BMW released few details about its new i4 electric sedan, beyond images of the exterior. It’s a four-door car similar in profile to the petroleum-powered BMW 4-series. It will be available in versions with up to about 300 miles of US EPA-estimated driving range and can produce up to 530 horsepower.

Last November, BMW unveiled the iX, an all-electric SUV intended as the top model for the brand’s “i” electric vehicle sub-brand. The iX is expected to go into production later this year. The i4 is also expected to go on sale in Europe later this year and in the US early next year, a BMW spokesman said.

BMW will offer electric models in 90% of the market segments it competes in by 2023, the company said in an announcement. By 2030, the company expects roughly half its global sales to be electric vehicles.

But there is at least one brand in the BMW Group that is going all electric. BMW’s Mini division will offer only electric cars by the mid-2030s, the company announced.

Mini’s small cars, which are frequently driven short distances in urban environments, are well suited to electric car buyers, Zipse said. Mini currently offers one fully electric model, the Mini Cooper SE. A next-generation version of the Mini Countryman SUV, which will go into production in 2023, will also be available in an electric version.

BMW also owns Rolls-Royce, the British ultra-luxury brand that sells cars like the Rolls-Royce Ghost and Phantom, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are no plans to make Rolls-Royce an electric-only brand, but an electric model is coming soon, Zipse said.

“There will be an electric Rolls-Royce in this decade and probably not late in this decade,” Zipse said.