BMW CEO Harald Krüger has always preferred to work in the background. Content to leave the stage for others, Krüger has mostly led BMW in an almost understated manner. Yet, in a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and fellow executives from rivals Volkswagen and Daimler, the CEO proved assertive, announcing that BMW will be looking to sell around 300,000 electric and electrified vehicles annually by 2021.
Krüger’s assertive stance on EVs is likely due to pressures that BMW is feeling in the electric vehicle market, which has, in more ways than one, started affecting the security of the CEO’s post. The 53-year-old BMW executive’s contract expires in May 2020, and theoretically, the company’s Supervisory Board could extend it. Unfortunately, reports are now emerging that Krüger’s contract as BMW’s chief executive might not be extended anymore, according to information gathered by German news agency Handelsblatt.
Amidst BMW’s current challenges, the publication alleges that the automaker no longer considers an extension of Krüger’s CEO contract as the most plausible scenario in the near future. Talks of tensions in BMW’s leadership have emerged, and an insider has even noted that there is “high pressure in the boiler.” If Krüger is not able to keep his CEO post, two board members are reportedly set to take over his seat: the ambitious Head of Development Klaus Fröhlich and the more tempered Oliver Zipse, who took over BMW’s production department from Krüger back in 2015.
BMW is currently facing a number of challenges. The company has initiated a group-wide “hiring freeze,” and the CEO’s critics were quick to point out that despite BMW’s “biggest model offensive in the company’s history,” sales have stagnated. Over the past nine months, the German automaker surprised with two profit warnings, and margins for its vehicles are under pressure. Krüger, for his part, remained cautiously optimistic, stating that “In the second half of the year, we expect a tailwind” amid the upcoming release of large vehicles like the BMW X7 SUV.
Hiring freezes and poor sales aside, one thing that has notably irked the German automaker’s shareholders is its poor electric vehicle strategy. In 2013, Krüger’s predecessor, Norbert Reithofer, launched the BMW i3, a curiously futuristic electric car that was compared to the Tesla Model S. BMW has not released a pure battery-electric vehicle since then. Jaguar has started its push with the I-PACE, Audi has released the e-tron, and Mercedes-Benz has already unveiled the EQC. BMW’s iX3, on the other hand, won’t be ready for at least another year. Speaking to the publication, a competitor noted that “BMW was ahead, now they are suspended.”
The emergence of Tesla as a player in the premium sedan market has also become a painful pill to swallow for BMW. With its international rollout, the Tesla Model 3 continued to hack away at the sales of BMW’s iconic 3-Series sedan. Tests from publications such as Top Gear, which have been traditionally pro-petrol in the past, have also recognized the Silicon Valley-made Model 3 as superior in more ways than one to a BMW. Tesla’s rise has not escaped the attention of BMW’s investors, who appear to be getting quite impatient with the German automaker’s delayed, if not half-hearted EV strategy.
These sentiments were expressed during BMW’s annual shareholder meeting in May. Addressing the company, shareholder protector Daniela Bergdolt did not mince words. “I now expect an electric offensive that sweeps Tesla off the table,” she said, and the company did not really have a strong response. There’s the i4 and the iNext, but both vehicles don’t currently have a concrete release date. The impressive BMW Vision M Next, which was recently revealed, is also an eye-catching concept vehicle, but it still remains to be seen if or when the car will enter production.