Just to make it clear: driving and owning an electric car in the Philippines isn't for everyone... at least not yet.
The few electric cars available from volume brands in the country are too few and far too expensive. There's not much by way of the manufacturing of EVs in the region to maximize AFTA, nor are there any being made in local factories. I even doubt if there are any realistic plans from the already established manufacturers here. And then there's the issue of charging; specifically the lack of it.
Even the newly-lapsed EV law (the President at the time didn't even sign it) that seeks to promote EV adoption doesn't carry enough benefits to seriously make a compelling case for customers to go electric. Prices won't really drop to get the public realistically interested because the import duty is still high, nor are there any significant benefits apart from priority registration and coding exemption. It's like offering a house for sale with the promise of freebies, but it's really just a Happy Meal toy.
I'm being pessimistic. While the technology is promising, the reality in our island chain means it will be a while. That, however, isn't really the case for the luxury sector. I think it will be the premium automobile brands that will really be able to drive electric vehicles forward, at least for the next few years.
That's what BMW Philippines is getting at, and that's why we're trying out three of their EVs: the iX, the i4, and the iX3. The only thing is the steering wheel is not on the correct side; it's on the right. We're in Singapore after all.
Driving excursions in Singapore aren't that common even for us. This island nation may be tiny, but the concentration of wealth is immense. Not only that, the car culture isn't quite like ours, especially since buying a car here entails getting a certificate of entitlement or COE first. While we were there, the COE was averaging about 95,000 SGD... or about PHP 3.9 million. That's just the certificate, not the car.
Still, here we are. And we've got three cars to try out. All are BMWs. All are electric.
The iX is perhaps the most familiar to me because BMW Philippines is already offering the model here. In fact, just a few weeks before, I had just reviewed the Philippine-spec iX; an electric SUV that's roughly the size of an X5. That in itself is a big advantage in a market that is very much addicted to big SUVs, though the “self-healing” grille will take a bit of getting used to.
The SG spec is slightly different in spec than the one I drove, but only just. The exterior look is a bit different with the sportier front bumper, while the interior has quite a bit of bling with “crystallic” glass trim pieces for the seat adjustment knobs, the drive selector, and so on and so forth. But it's still the same xDrive40 spec that we have. And yes, it's something I really enjoyed.
In Singapore's more urban streets the iX is smooth, silent, and deceptively quick. You just don't realize how quickly it piles on the digits on the speedometer because it's so smooth and quiet. If anything, I'm actually a little worried if I somehow inadvertently and unintentionally triggered a speed camera given its eagerness to go even with light throttle pressure.
Yes, it handles well for a heavy SUV as the batteries are located under the floor. But beyond the handling, what many will really enjoy is the practicality of the iX given the space. Because this is purpose-built to be an electric vehicle only, which is why they really maximized the space by not having any of the constraints of a typical BMW like a tunnel that really takes up quite a bit of space in the middle for the rear-wheel drive transmissions. That, however, can't be said of the other two.
The i4 is BMW's effort at packaging an existing and recognizable vehicle as an EV. It's really based on the 4 Series Gran Coupe, but with an electric drive.
The car is sprightly, especially on the portion of the road leading up to Bollywood Farms. Though it’s hard to extract the capabilities of the car in Singapore, it’s easy to drive, it feels planted, and it should be a lot of fun. And yes, the i4 is rear-wheel drive. I can really imagine driving this back home on roads like Marilaque or on the longer stretches of expressways. Imagine, however, is all we can do for now with the i4. BMW Philippines won’t be offering this in our market.
They won’t say why, but we’ll venture a guess that it probably won’t sell as well because the luxury auto buyer really prefers to go for SUVs now. That’s why when you visit a BMW dealership in the Philippines, chances are you’ll be seeing more cars in the showrooms than their SUVs (or SAVs, in BMW-speak). The reason is in the age of the great global parts shortage, the SUVs are already sold out. Only the sedans remain.
That’s why the third vehicle in the line is critical: the iX3.
The X3 is one of BMW’s biggest sellers in the Philippines, and marketing an electric version just makes sense. From any angle, the iX3 just looks like an X3, but it has no exhaust or fuel tank. All it has is an 80 kWh battery pack, a charging port that can be hooked up to a 150 kW DC fast charger, and the fifth generation of BMW's electric drive system called eDrive.
You just get in, push the start button, put it into D, and step on the throttle. Of course, when you do so, you will be surprised by the instant torque because, well, electric. It just dumps all the torque all at once if you’re not careful because you've got 400 Nm available and 286 horses. Where the iX3 will really impress is with its smoothness, silence, and acceleration even if you’ve got the vehicle loaded.
What BMW did was to make an electric vehicle feel like a BMW by dialing in some very BMW characteristics. They intended the vehicle to feel like a rear-wheel drive, and it really does feel that way, especially mid-corner. Of course, there's only so much we can do in Singapore (lest we incur some speed penalties), but it does feel balanced and planted. 100 km/h is dispatched in just 6.8 seconds; impressive for a heavy vehicle.
This iX3 will be coming to the Philippine market not exactly in this trim level, but fairly close. Actually, you don’t have to physically see an iX3 to get a feel for how it is. If you’ve got an X3, it’s the same thing. Step inside, and it'll feel like a normal BMW X3. There’s nothing alienating about the vehicle if you’re already familiar with BMWs.
You'll have the premium interior, the advanced connectivity suite, and up to 1560 liters of cargo space. BMW was able to achieve that because they already engineered the X3 to be modular from the start; that means from the conceptualization phase, they already planned that the platform will be able to accommodate an ICE powertrain, a hybrid powertrain, or an eDrive powertrain. That's why you've still got the bulge from the floor to accommodate the transmission which an EV doesn't need.
This is the future made familiar, and that’s going to be the key. If the new can be packaged as familiar, that can be the catalyst for others to try it out for themselves. Because of the familiarity, the iX3 will be key to BMW’s electrification plans in the Philippines, perhaps more than the larger iX. And the fact that the iX3 will be made in the PRC will be key.
Yes, the iX3 in Singapore and the one for the Philippine market will be made in China. We’re not quite sure how that will play out with the customer base in the Philippines, but there’s nothing to suggest that the quality of the vehicle we’re driving is any less. Even with the Malaysian-made models that they have been offering in the Philippines, the quality is there.
Only three things really need to fall into place for the success of EVs like the iX and iX3. Pricing is one, and the Chinese sourcing will be key; if they price this at around PHP 4 million (hopefully less) then this could be a big hit. The other is unit supplies; parts shortages have led to a big slowdown in units arriving for customers. The third is charging; there needs to be more, and fast. But given how EVs are used in places like Metro Manila, the 460 km maximum range (WLTP) is going to last for a few days of driving from home to the office and back home.
In my opinion, the iX3 will be a game changer in the EV game because we expect the price differential between a regular ICE-powered X3 and an iX3 to not be that big. That's really the issue with many EVs and hybrids from the major volume brands: the price difference. In the luxury sector, it's not that big of a deal because the EVs and hybrids can get fairly close to their ICE counterparts.
Maybe BMW Philippines should nudge their friends over at San Miguel's sister company Petron to get moving on charging solutions. They've got some time: the BMW iX3 will be launched sometime in the middle of next year.