While Volkswagen and Volvo lead a charge towards fully electric car sales within a decade, BMW says it's the market that will decide when petrol and diesel engines reach the end of the road.

Reuters reports that BMW expects at least half of its sales to be zero emission vehicles by 2030, setting a more conservative target than some rivals in the race to embrace cleaner driving.

Volkswagen has said it expects 70% of European sales at its core VW brand to be electric by 2030 and this week unveiled ambitious plans to expand in electric driving - including building half a dozen battery cell plants in Europe - sending its shares sharply higher.

BMW said around 90% of its market categories would have fully-electric models available by 2023 and the electric BMW i4 would be launched three months ahead of schedule this year.

The carmaker said its MINI brand would be fully electric "by the early 2030s" and electric models would account for at least 50% of group deliveries by 2030.

When asked by Reuters if BMW could set a date for ending sales of internal combustion engines, as some rivals have, Chief Technology Officer Frank Weber said: "it's not us who decides on the end of the internal combustion engine, but it’s the markets."

In an industry chasing electric carmaker Tesla and facing tightening CO2 emissions standards in Europe and China, some automakers have promised a faster shift in technology, despite the huge costs and manufacturing changes involved.

Sweden’s Volvo said this month its lineup would be fully electric by 2030, and Ford said in February its lineup in Europe would be too.

Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in the European Union almost trebled to over 1 million vehicles in 2020 and accounted for more than 10% of overall sales, taking zero-emission models from niche products into the mainstream.

BMW Chief Executive Oliver Zipse told a news conference that BMW could accelerate its plans if consumers embraced electric models more quickly than expected.

"Should demand in certain markets shift completely to fully electric vehicles in the coming years - we can deliver," he said.