BMW's Blaettel says lots of questions remain about new mobility  (Photo: Claus Dick)

FRANKFURT - The auto industry is undergoing an "iconic change" as it moves into a new-mobility era, a senior BMW executive said Wednesday.

Bernhard Blaettel, director mobility services at the German premium car maker, told the Mobility 3.0 Congress here that the changes are driven by increased urbanization, expectations of higher oil prices and customers' new preferences for personal mobility.

He said, however, that many questions about the changes remain. "The chances are very high that this iconic change will come, but we don't know when and we don't know how big it will be," Blaettel said.

In view of this uncertainty, BMW has adopted a two-pronged strategy to deal with the changes. On the one hand, the Munich-based carmaker continues to increase the efficiency of its existing models. At the same time, it is launching a new "i" brand, which wants to capture new consumers.

BMW showed production versions of the i3 electric city vehicle at the Frankfurt auto show (IAA). That car will be launched shortly. A second "i" vehicle, the i8 sports car, will come to market next year.

In addition to the new BMW brand, the carmaker is  adopting a range of new technologies and mobility services. These include car sharing and various location-based services.BMW has founded "BMW i Ventures," a New York based company that focuses on investments in startups. Blaettel said the company's New York location was justified by the major impact of urbanization. "There's a thriving startup scene in New York and when you want to develop megacity services, you want to be in a megacity," he said. "In that respect, New York is more suitable than Silicon Valley."

Blaettel sketched a vision of a fully integrated automotive mobility environment. Said the BMW executive: "Mobility doesn't start when you get into a vehicle and end when you get out; it has to be continuous."

The Mobility 3.0 Congress is organized by the automotiveIT group. The event, which brings together around 400 automotive and IT executives, is held annually during the Frankfurt auto show (IAA) and the Hanover truck exhibition.