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?