In a glitzy ceremony that featured a New Years’ Eve-style countdown in three cities around the world, BMW AG
unveiled its all-electric i3 this week.
The unveiling, peppered with references to sustainable power sources, marked BMW’s first foray into mass production of pure electric cars. “We are at the starting blocks of a new era -- the era of sustainable mobility,” BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer said in a web-based conference.
The rear-wheel-drive i3 is expected to hit the streets in the US in the second quarter of 2014. It is considered unique in its prominent use of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP), its optional range-extending two-cylinder engine, and in its from-the-ground-up design philosophy. BMW expects it to be priced at $41,350 before federal tax breaks.
Click on the image below for a closer look at BMW's all-electric i3.
BMW’s i3will cost $41,350 before federal incentives and will offer 81 to 99 miles of all-electric range. (Source: BMW)
During the press conference -- held in New York, London, and Beijing -- BMW executives emphasized that the i3 would appeal to environmentally smart buyers of premium vehicles. “We can see our customers’ values are really changing,” said Ian Robertson, BMW’s chief sales officer. “They want sheer driving pleasure, but with a clear conscience.”
The i3 will serve those changing values with its use of a 22-kWh lithium-ion battery. The battery, slightly smaller than the Nissan Leaf’s 24-kWh unit, will nevertheless produce an all-electric range of 81 to 99 miles, BMW said. Liberal use of CFRP helped enable that range. A CFRP-based passenger cell will sit atop an aluminum “drive module” that incorporates the suspension, the battery, the drive system, and structural components, thus minimizing vehicle mass.
”Our expertise in manufacturing with this material makes the passenger cell extremely strong and lightweight,” Reithofer said. He added that the company produces carbon-fiber components using hydro-electric power. It also employs wind power to build the i3, he said.
For those who want more than 80 or 90 miles for their investment, the company also said it is offering a range extender. By mounting a 650cc two-cylinder engine adjacent to the electric motor and above the rear axle, BMW said it could boost the car’s maximum range to nearly 180 miles. The optional range extender is expected to push the price tag to about $45,000.
Industry analysts estimate that BMW may have already invested more than a billion dollars in its i brand, which encompasses multiple vehicles, including the i3 and the hybrid-electric i8. That investment is proof the company is not just doing the i3 as a so-called “compliance vehicle” (to meet California-type mandates), but as a cornerstone of a larger plan. “It’s one thing for a startup like Tesla to do an electric vehicle from the ground up,” Thilo Koslowski, vice president and distinguished analyst for Gartner Inc., told Design News. “But for a vehicle manufacturer that sells over a million vehicles a year worldwide to do something like this, this is a big risk.”
Koslowski said that the 2,600-lb i3 will probably compete most directly with the Tesla Model S, a premium electric car with a price tag that’s about $30,000 higher than the i3’s. He wondered, however, whether the vehicle’s character will be right for traditional BMW buyers. “At the end of the day, it’s still a very small vehicle,” he told us. “It looks different from their other vehicles, and that could drive away some of those consumers who like BMWs.”
Nice-lookiong ride! Well done, BMW. The price isn't too bad, either--BMW seems to have found a way to combine luxury and affordability in their EV. I understand how traditional BMW buyers might balk, but perhaps people who would never buy a BMW or EV might like the look and the price and get on board. I guess time will tell.
I heard the reviews on the radio and podcasts before I saw the car.
Yowza. Now, I understand the negative reaction. It looks like the offspring of a Prius and Mazda3. It does not look like a BMW.
The zeitgeist that's leading back to urbanization has been interesting. As someone who did not participate in suburban flight, the romantic notion of zipping around "the city" in an electric car has no emotional hold. But, it does for many others. It's really unfortunate that this consumer doesn't get a stylish option, not even from BMW.
Liz, your comment about combining luxury and affordability is right on target when you look at it from the perspective of the EV market. The Tesla Model S is probably the closest competitor, at least in terms of luxury brand aspirations. But the Model S costs about $30,000 more than the i3. On the flip side, the Nissan Leaf, in the mid-$20,000 range, is closer in terms of cost, although not targeted for a premium audience. So the i3 lands smack-dab in the middle of those two.
An interesting side note to the i3 story: In its press release, BMW describes the i3 as "the world's first premium car designed from the ground up to be powered by an electric drive system." It would seem BMW has forgotten about, or is just plain ignoring, Tesla.
Yes, I agree with you that this car is in a good position in the EV market, Chuck, and I applaud BMW for its relative affordability with premium style. I think sometimes there are people who just want EVs to fail to prove some kind of point, and will look negatively on anything manufacturers are trying to do to attract not just hippie-eco types, but other more mainstream or high-end customers. I personally hope BMW has a lot of success with this to quiet some of those naysayers.
With you Nadine. The Prius is sexy next to this buggy. (Actually, though it doesn't fit my needs I am a Prius fan, it sells well because it works, not for "green cred" IMHO. Chuckle.)
I think the $5k range extender is a smart marketing move. It will really help the range anxiety thing. Frankly I am dubious of the chances of any vehicle (electric or not) with a sub 100 mile range. The only things that can get away with that are toys like dirt bikes (love dirt bikes, bet an electric one like a Zero would be fun).
Without the range extender it strikes me as a toy. (Sorry Liz) ;^)
I think the Eco-toy market is getting saturated and a lot of the potential buyers have theirs already.
Not anti-electric-just don't think they are ready for the big time. Cue fire storm from pro-EV zealots.
Agree - this doesn't look exciting - too bad because the 90 mi. range would easily cover all but maybe 5-6 trips in a given year. (Really - does the average person drive ~90mi*300days = 27,000+mi/year??)
I was hoping it would look close to the original I3 concept car. At that price, I want something that excites me.
Prius is a reasonably well engineered car - with the exception of the poorly designed dash - way too cluttered and non-intuitive, and the non-existent clearance. I've rented several,
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