Towards A Responsible Future

By Grace Ma
Photography by Chino Sardea, assisted by Tracey Nguyen
Styling by CK Koo
Grooming by Nikki Fu using NARS
08 May 2023

Whether it is achieving ambitious electric mobility goals or leading his team, BMW Group Asia’s managing director Lars Nielsen believes in the power of self-motivated choices over top-down enforcement.

Since the announcement of The Singapore Green Plan 2030 in 2021, Singapore’s electric vehicle (EV) landscape has been buzzing. With plans to install 60,000 EV charging points all over the islands, grants to encourage deployment of chargers in non-landed private residential developments, and incentives for EV ownership, the potential of the market is not lost on luxury car makers.

Since BMW Group Asia, which comprises the BMW and MINI brands, launched its first fully electric vehicle (EV), the BMW i3, in 2014, total sales of BMW and MINI EVs in Singapore have grown by almost 50 times from double digits to four digits in 2023.

In 2022, the group introduced three groundbreaking BMW EV models— the BMW i4; the BMW i4 M50, which is BMW M’s first fully electric car; and the BMW i7, the latest flagship luxury sedan. The EV sales in that year alone made up more than half of the total BMW EV sales to date. According to the latest figures from the Land Transport Authority, BMW was the market leader with the highest number of EVs sold in the first two months of 2023.

BMW Group Asia’s managing director Lars Nielsen, who oversees 14 markets including Singapore, Brunei, Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Guam, shared that as they aim to “electrify all 14 markets in the next few years”, it does not mean that the combustion engine would become immediately obsolete.

Outfit by Loro Piana

He explained: “We are confident that EV sales will continue to rise, but at an accelerated pace alongside the ongoing development of the public charging infrastructure. At the same time, we are technology agnostic – there is room for everything as there will be a demand and a need for everything. We believe in the power of choice. Depending on where you live, your lifestyle, and the existing infrastructure, you will have the choice of internal combustion, a pure electric, or a plug-in hybrid. 

Nielsen added that while range anxiety and the availability of charging outlets were concerns in the earlier years of adoption, it is almost a non-issue now. Besides the obvious cost savings in the long run, consumers are also more motivated to purchase an EV to do their part for the environment.

“It used to be that sustainability was something you were supposed to or had to sell. Now, if you’re not capable of delivering this expected standard, you’ll have to explain yourself as a brand. As a customer, you’ve to accept that you’re buying something that doesn’t comply,”said Nielsen.

(Related: Building Luxury)


Doing good as a brand

This puts the responsibility for sustainability squarely in the car maker’s court. He added: “It’s a major topic for the BMW Group, that we can hold the mirror up and say that we’ve done all we should on the sustainability journey, from the sourcing of raw materials in the supply chain to recycling materials when a car is scrapped. As a premium brand, there’s no future if you’re not sustainable.”

The Group is not just wading in. It is testing the use of hydrogen fuel cells in its drive technology, and has committed to supply more than a third of its worldwide production network with CO2-reduced steel from 2026 and to achieve complete climate neutrality across the entire value chain latest by 2050. It also intends to gradually increase the percentage of recycled and reused materials in its Neue Klasse vehicles to 100 per cent by 2040. Already in the BMW iX and iX3 models are floor mats made from old fishing nets and rare earth materials are prohibited in the production of the EV batteries.

Outfit by Ermenegildo Zegna

Nielsen said: “The sustainability bar across the world will only go higher, never lower. So adopting a mindset where we believe that it has to work – that is the premise for us doing business. We want to make sure that we are an attractive company and employer whose mobility products are of the highest quality yet we can do good. It gives a bigger meaning to the work our employees do when they see how we’re stewarding resources.”

Nielsen also emphasized the importance of connection with customers, especially in this part of the world. He said: “You can do a lot of things digitally, but in the end, business is done between people. You need trust, connection, the personal touch.” The BMW Club was launched last year for owners of the 7 Series, 8 Series, X7, and XM models. Among the exclusive events organized were early-bird access to Art SG in January with a fine-dining meal and a tasting of limited-release scotch whiskies in March. In June, there is a performance driving and travel experience on Phillip Island in Australia.


Doing right as a leader

As a leader, Nielsen is convinced that motivation has to be more self-driven than externally inspired. “You need to be able to motivate yourself and pull whatever resources within you to do the job. I can’t wait for my boss to tell me ‘you can do this’ or give virtual high-fives. I tell my colleagues, with the amount of energy and time we spend here, let’s make it fun, interesting, and meaningful.”

With the majority of his time spent on the road and in planes, relaxation time for Nielsen is to “get moving” so he runs, cycles, plays golf, and explores the latest local haunts with his family. His musical taste are eclectic – from American rock band Foo Fighters to Latino and Danish numbers. One of his favourite podcasts on the way to work is a Danish talkshow where a member of the public phones in with their problems, which are then weighed in by different people. He shared: “It makes me realize there are many perspectives to an issue. Also, whatever problem I’m facing that day, there is always a worse one out there."

“It used to be that sustainability was something you were supposed to or had to sell. Now, if you’re not capable of delivering this expected standard, you’ll have to explain yourself as a brand."

“In life, you will not always be riding with a tailwind; there will be headwinds from time to time. You need to motivate yourself to pedal through and the more you are able to do that, the better it is.”