Nailed It? Why BMW’s New i3 May Be the Most Popular Electric Car Yet

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ANDREW WINNING / REUTERS

The BMW i3 being unveiled in London on July 29, 2013

On Monday, BMW streamed video of the world premiere of the company’s first mass-production electric car. The i3 is a funky-looking four-seater that Wired is calling “the most innovative thing to come out of Munich in a decade.”

Here are a few of the reasons why it’s so innovative — and why it may prove to be more practical and appealing than its battery-powered peers:

Extended driving range. The fact that a typical electric vehicle (EV) can only be driven 75 miles to 80 miles (120 km to 130 km) before requiring a recharge — which takes up a lot more time than a gas-station pit stop — is a deal breaker for many consumers. Using electric power, the BMW i3 can be driven out 80 miles (130 km), perhaps 100 miles (160 km). That’s fine for many commuters, but insufficient for longer journeys.

Extending the driving range of the i3 is as simple as purchasing the optional two-cylinder, 34-horsepower rear engine that runs on gasoline — and that basically doubles the vehicle’s range. BMW is also expected to give i3 owners access to gas-powered loaner cars during the days when they need a vehicle with longer driving range — on, say, a weekend road trip.

(MORE: Buy an Electric Car, Get a Gas-Powered Car Free)

It’s not too-too expensive. One of the most common arguments against EVs is that the math doesn’t add up: whatever money you’d save on gas is negated by the premium you pay compared with a traditional gas-powered car. Prices have already dropped significantly on electric cars, with abundant cheap lease deals and thousands of dollars slashed off the sticker prices of the Ford Focus EV, Nissan Leaf and others.

In the U.S., the BMW i3 will start at $41,350, or $45,200 for the version with the backup gasoline engine, before factoring in federal and state rebates and tax incentives. That’s not cheap, but it’s less expensive than what many anticipated for an electric-powered BMW. It’s also a lot less pricey than the Tesla Model S, the premium that has already set the standard for electric cars — and that starts at around $70,000.

This is no glorified golf cart. The i3 has a 170-horsepower engine and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, and goes 0 to 60 m.p.h. (97 km/h) in seven seconds. That’s not particularly fast, but quite peppy by EV standards; the Nissan Leaf does 0 to 60 in about 10 seconds.

Fast charging. The vehicle can be fully recharged with a 220-volt charger in three hours, and BMW says a special fast-charging system can get the i3 fully juiced up in just 30 minutes.

It will supposedly be profitable. While Tesla is said to be making money on sales of its cars, for the time being the typical EV is a money loser. It’s been reported that Fiat, for instance, loses about $10,000 on each 500e that’s sold.

But BMW certainly doesn’t plan on its EVs losing money. The Wall Street Journal quoted BMW global sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson declaring on Monday that the i3 “would be profitable from Day One on each vehicle it made.”

MORE: What Would Make an All-Electric Car Appeal to the Masses?

74 comments
Phils454
Phils454

Maybe this author should do some research before he spouts off. The Chevy Volt has been doing this for years now and actually has enough room to take a family on a road trip, unlike this "smart car" BMW.

edh
edh

Wow, after reading all these comments I have a sense that about a third are from Volt, Leaf, Prius owners jealous of the superior i3, a third from Tesla drivers who can afford ultra expensive vehicles and are torqued there is another luxury car $28k less; and the final third of those open to the idea the i3 would make a very decent vehicle to purchase.  

StephenSwain
StephenSwain

0-60 in 7 seconds is not slow.  Try it.  It will feel pretty brisk, especially in an urban environment.  It just isn't very affordable.  That's kind of too bad, but ... Oh well.  It's a BMW.

DanielDubuc
DanielDubuc

"...best idea coming from Munich in decades..." "Best idea" first came from Detroit. Chevrolet Volt came out in 2010 with the same type of electric car, only bigger!

DanielDubuc
DanielDubuc

"...best idea coming from Munich in decades..." "Best idea" first came from Detroit. Chevrolet Volt came out with the same type of electric car, only bigger!.

DavidGesell
DavidGesell

Ooooh yay it can go 10 more miles on electricity than other cars.. Oooohh ahhh. I'm so sick of cars that can only go 100 miles on a charge. Tesla has already proven that batteries CAN last up to 265+ miles. WHY ARE COMPANIES NOT USING THIS TECHNOLOGY?? Put the batteries in the frame of the car. It's not this crazy idea that's never been tested and might not work. Once Tesla comes out with their $30k car, the rest of these companies better step it up a notch. Because the days of $45k dollar, slow, ugly, terrible ranged cars (Volt, Leaf, Mitsu I, etc.) is over!

PPerera
PPerera

Why did Citron think this was competition? The superior quality of a Tesla puts it above every electric and hybrid car on the market including this one.

ExtremeKahuna
ExtremeKahuna

Turning a profit on the first day,?

Yea if you hide the cost of r&d as overhead in your existing business.

You're telling me if they sell 10 of these the first day they will recoop all the money they put into design and R & D?

Ha, nice try!

jonrpeterson
jonrpeterson

It's just a hybrid...new technology layered over old..nothing new here. I also question 100 mi  range on an 18kwh battery. Normal is 3 mi/kwh, or about 56 mi. Tesla has set the bar.


DavidYohn
DavidYohn

Wow.  This writer has no clue.  The Chevy Volt had it "nailed" four years ago.  But it doesn't wear a BMW badge so I guess it's a piece of crap.

SactoMan81
SactoMan81

At the price BMW wants for the i3, I'd rather get the BMW 328d (as the European-market BMW 320d is known in the USA). What's not to like with good acceleration, over 40 mpg fuel economy when driven at circa 65 mph on the freeway, and typical good handling?

yachtboy9
yachtboy9

45 000 for a range of 180 mi? Is this writer being paid by BMW to shill for the company.?

Nice try, but the electric car is still a dream. When battery and electric engine technology begin to approach an 85 to 90% parity with combustion technology will this take off and be a legitimate alternative. Until then it remains an engineering study and a status symbol for a relative few. No one has as yet though, adequately explained to me how the electricity used to charge the battery, indirectly generated by a power plant that still adds pollutants to the air in some measure,  is a better solution to what comes out the tailpipe of most modern cars. If biofuels can be ramped up to the level of replacing gasoline and diesel, then I think a better solution is at hand with a renewable resource.  

Sharknado
Sharknado

i like this car, but wished it looked more sporty.

nooperjones
nooperjones

Garbage is what it is. All it does is make electric vehicles seem more like toys than practical vehicles. A loaner for when the car you bought is clearly insufficient? That's like apologizing for making people buy the car.

avatar77
avatar77

Meh, the Chevy Volt is cheaper, better looking, has a longer total range, and is American engineered and built.  Oh, and it came out nearly three years ago.  The BMW has a longer all electric range but looks like a wind-up car.  How is this even news?

beemer76
beemer76

 Hey Brad,

 The cheapest Tesla Model S starts at $62,400  (60kwh battery), not $70,000. And that's without the federal and state credits.


Next time please make an effort to do your due diligence. Or has Time magazine lost all sense of accountability?

nicholas.kenda
nicholas.kenda

BMW messed up the design on this car. I hope red + black won't be the only color combination. It looks too much like a devil. Even  with a different color, this looks too much like a specialized, small, city car vehicle. We have seen such designs over the last 20 years. This is not a serious vehicle that a businessman, a family man, would buy. Tesla Model S is the only electric car on the market that actually looks like a real car.


DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

Question to BMW: Did the same design team for the Pontiac Aztek design the BMW i3?

That is one butt-ugly vehicle.  It's momma shoulda smothered it at birth.

I KNOW Apple didn't help design the i3.  Their designs are befuddling, but generally not nausea-inducing.  People go oooo, ahhhh when they see something from Apple.  Not urp, bleh, belch, upchuck.

News flash for BMW: The Aztek KILLED Pontiac.  And here you have a car that looks like a cross between a mutant Aztek and something from an acid-tripping Pixar animator. It's the only car I've ever laughed at while throwing up because of it at the same time.  I'm going to need treatment for PTSD.  Put it in Friday the 13th Part MCMVXII as the villain - you'll make a fortune scaring the hell out of people.  Use it as the star for "Christine II" - it would look BETTER on fire.

OMG, what were you people smoking when you came up with this??  I mean, you DO realize that in order to actually MAKE money on a vehicle (to at least recover the development costs), people have to want to not only buy them, but want to be seen driving them, right?  If people are running away from it in terror, nausea or comedic joke, it doesn't send the right "buy me" message.

What we have between your design team and your marketing team is a failure to communicate.  I hope you didn't put too many fiscal eggs into this hand-basket because this car is going to be kicked straight to hell.

And it'll scare Satan to death...

eps003
eps003

With i3's spec & price, I didn't see any necessities for this car:

1) If people like green and performance, they go with Tesla; 

2) If people like green with economy, they go with leaf,  volt, and prius.

3) If people just like the BMW badge, they can get a 3 series like 320 for just under $38,000.


charliehustle
charliehustle

i love bimmers, but at that price, you are nearly to the Tesla which is a LOT more car

MrBenGhazi
MrBenGhazi

Let's see. Your points are:

- Extends driving range from 80 miles to... 80 miles (maybe 100?).
- It's not too expensive, just $40,000.
- It's fast, but not really.
- It charges fast, just three hours.
- It makes the company money (why should I care?)

Awful article.

Weapon
Weapon

This is more of a Nissan Leaf competition then a Tesla Model S competition. No one in their right mind would buy this over a Tesla Model S.

JulianCox
JulianCox

Oh please. The days have long gone when a paid PR campaign carried credibility. This car has a negative consumer-value proposition. A Nissan Leaf is actually cooler (and more attractive) and that's saying something. The endless self-delusional attempts by BMW's marketing department to link this horrible little box to Tesla only stands to highlight how poor this vehicle is. Signed, BMW 750i owner (previous car BMW 740i), next car Model S (and not a range-hobbled electric mini that needs a motorcycle engine that costs more than a motorcycle to make it work, of any description). Thanks BMW, but no thanks.

dpharrington
dpharrington

No comparison with the US-built Tesla except price?  Yes, it's significantly more expensive than this BMW, at least for now, but outperforms it and outranges it greatly even if you paid for that optional motorcycle engine.  It also doesn't look like a basketball shoe.

oknahs
oknahs

The article say"it goes 0-60 in 7 seconds which isn't fast".  Are you kidding.  A Optima Turbo with 274 hp runs that in 6.1 seconds.  A RT challenger with a 5.7 v8 and 374 hp runs it in 6 seconds.  IN comparison its pretty amazing how quick it is.  The volt can not compare to the new EVs now coming out like the new Toyota Prius.  EPA 100 and and 50 with the gas engine.  The Volt on the other hand 80-32 and both priced around the same. 

Marcus111
Marcus111

@DavidGesell Because the Tesla is too heavy, too inefficient and too expensive. And it doesn't even have a range extender option, that lets you flexibly refuel after the motorway range of 200 miles is depleted.

Marcus111
Marcus111

@PPerera The quality of the tesla better be good, at THAT sticker price. Unfortunately, with any of these quoted electric cars and the better half of available hybrid cars you drive not only less expensively than in a tesla (factoring in the high upfront cost) but in most scenarios also drive with less primary energy consumption!

For comparison purposes between mpg-e (electric vehicle) and mpg (e.g. hybrid) you must divide the mpg-e value by at least 2,5! And the tesla even consumes energy while you are not driving!! An efficient electric vehicle can run 3000 miles a year alone on the juice that the model s consumes from the wall while not driving!

WalterBiber
WalterBiber

i get 4 miles/ kwh in my Volt. The BMW looks smaller so might go farther. It als depends on how much of the charge they let you use between charges. To prolong battery life, then Volt never fully charges or discharges.

Does anyone know how BMW dealt with that?

DavidGesell
DavidGesell

@yachtboy9 Where have you been?? Electric cars are everywhere now, you're probably just not paying attention to them. When I go into town I might see 10 or 20 fully electric/hybrid cars in just one day. I would say every major car company out there has at least 1 fully electric model either already in production or in the works, and 1 or more hybrids. In 5 yrs tops, you WILL know someone with a fully electric car. And in 10 - 20yrs people will have only memories of the days that cars ran on gasoline. It's cheaper to own (0 maintenance), cleaner, 100x more efficient even when the power is coming from coal, and way more powerful.  The electric car was a dream like 10yrs ago. Now it's time to wake up. 

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@yachtboy9The bio-fuels have not been productive, in that it takes soooo much water to farm the algae in. 

With little yield. I hope they make a break through, but right now it's not viable.

The amount of power you pay for charging a car like this is only a few dollars at a time.

Even if you are using 100% coal (becoming more and more rare!) the pollution is about equal that of gasoline.

http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/13/autos/electric_car_myths/index.htm

If you can use more carbon neutral electricity or totally renewable, it becomes very "green".

sjcourton
sjcourton

@nooperjones Electric vehicles are intended most for in city use, commuting and shopping. For rare times you paln to take a long trip using another car is not too bad. At least with an electric car you know NONE of the money you spend goes to the Middle East and many may like that.

sranger45
sranger45

@avatar77 

I guess it is for the people who take the time to learn why this car is quite different.....

sranger45
sranger45

@beemer76 

Sorry, but you are wrong the Model S starts at $70K without the rebate.....  The BMW i3 Starts at $42K without the rebate.  

So the Tesla is at a minimum $28,000 more expensive.... 

SilentBoy741
SilentBoy741

"People go oooo, ahhhh when they see something from Apple"

[Insert picture of Steve Jobs' yacht here]

Well, maybe not always...

sranger45
sranger45

@eps003 

If people want a luxury EV and think the Model S that is at least $28,000 more expensive it too much, this car might be right for them...

yachtboy9
yachtboy9

@ZacPetit  

If the public is stupid enough to buy this line of **** from BMW, they deserve what they get.

nooperjones
nooperjones

@ZacPetit honestly, this car's very existence is like a perpetual apology for its own existence.

sranger45
sranger45

@Weapon 

I think people who want a luxury EV and drive less than 90 miles per day and do not want to pay the $28,000 premium for the tesla might just disagree with you....

Also some people might prefer the easy entry and high seating position of the i3 over the Model S.  I think the model S is a great car, but it is very low and difficult to get in and out of...

And believe it or not there are actually people out there who could care less about 0-60 performance...

sranger45
sranger45

@JulianCox 

A matter of taste.  I prefer the exterior of the i3 over the Leaf.  It have a more futuristic look without those weird bulging head lights on the the leaf.  The interior of the i3 is much better to my eye than the one in the Leaf...

Different people, different tasts...

nooperjones
nooperjones

@dpharrington hahahahaaa basketball shoe! I knew it looked somewhat familiar, but I just couldn't put a finger on why. all I had to do was look at my feet.

AnthonyLee
AnthonyLee

@oknahs 

MPGe: Volt 98 Prius 95 

electric range: Volt 38 Prius 11

cost for 25 mile trip: Volt 1.05 Prius 1.49

0-60: Volt 8.9 Prius 10.9

Personal experience:  I have driven 801 miles this month and used NO gas.  If I had a Prius, I would have used 11.5 gallons.  My costs: $22.  Costs had it been a Prius: $46.25


You are right.  There is no comparison.

yachtboy9
yachtboy9

@sjcourton @nooperjones 

Your thinking is a couple of decades out of date. Oil is a global market. Most oil imported into the U.S. is from Canada or Latin America. Oil is a commodity sold to the highest bidder. As a political tool it has almost no clout.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@sranger45@DeweySayenoffI believe, if YOU don't see the similarities between this and the Aztek (nostrils on a car.  Really?? Ew...), you should have YOUR eyes checked.  Besides, I described it as a "cross between a mutant Aztek and something from an acid-tripping Pixar animator", so there are bound to be differences.

Perhaps a reading comprehension and a Rorschach test should be added to the eye test.  One can never be too careful about determining one's failing ability to perceive the world around them, you know.

And Jones, I couldn't agree more.  I'd have to have been dug up from my grave by malicious defamers and put in this eye-bleeding mess to ever be caught dead in one.

nooperjones
nooperjones

@sranger45 @DeweySayenoff no, he's not far off actually. both are absolutely bizarre looking. why do these electric vehicles always have to look so emasculating? At least the Volt was nice to look at. This, on the other hand, would make me want to tint the windows immediately so that no one would have to know I was driving it.

nooperjones
nooperjones

@sranger45 @Weapon people that have money to afford luxury are not going to choose this over the model s, I can almost guarantee that. bmw absolutely dropped the ball in trying to enter the luxury EV market. it's like they couldn't decide whether they wanted to target the affordable EV market or the luxury EV market.