BMW i3 Electric Car to Launch in U.S. Early Next Year

BMW has a lot riding on its new i3 electric car, including approximately $2 billion on research and development and millions more in advertising.  But unlike with most new vehicle launches, the German automaker is taking a measured approach to its rollout due to concerns about the i3’s quality.

According to Automotive Industry Data (AID), a mere 400 i3s were sold in Western Europe last month. AID editor Peter Schmidt said, “That’s a mere fraction of the earlier consensus expectations of some dedicated electric car market observers.”  Schmidt says the total number of i3 registrations in November reached 801, but that the majority of these were dealer demos and models provided to the press and production has been limited to “a trickle.”

BMW claims to have received 10,000 orders for the i3, but has not disclosed whether the orders are from dealers or end customers.

According to a BMW spokesman, “Due to its entirely new architecture and technology, production of the BMW i3 was always planned in low numbers initially, increasing over the course of 2014. Both production and sales are going extremely well. The 10,000 global orders already received show the enormous appeal of this car. U.K. customers ordering cars now can expect delivery in the second half of next year. The U.S. launch is also on track.”

The new i3 features an extensive use of proprietary carbon fiber reinforced plastic to reduce weight without sacrificing the strength, an aluminum chassis, and an optional two-cylinder auxiliary gasoline engine which can be used to recharge its lithium-ion electric batteries.  The batteries are positioned beneath the passenger floor to give the i3 a low center or gravity and even weight distribution.

BMW claims the i3 is the world’s first fully networked electric vehicle, featuring a satellite navigation system that determine whether or not the desired destination is within range and automatically switch the vehicle to “economy” mode if necessary.  The range for the optional auxiliary gas motor equipped model is more than 200 miles.  The range is limited to between 81 and 125 miles without the optional motor.

According to German investment bank HSBC Trinkhous and Burkhardt, the new i3 and the soon to be released i8 hybrid give BMW a four to five year competitive advantage over other German automakers. That advantage will reportedly cost BMW up to $270 million per year during the first five years.

In its home market of Germany, the i3 sells for the equivalent of $47,900.  The optional gasoline motor adds about another $6,600 to the sticker price.

The BMW i3 is scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. during the second quarter of 2014 and the automaker says its Leipzig factory will be operating at full capacity by March.

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