BMW may be labeling the i3 a concept car, but take away all of the glass in the doors, and imagine it with solid, painted carbon fiber there instead. It’s a car that will be making it to production; BMW’s just priming you for it. As BMW’s first foray into making an all-electric car, the i3 stands as a progression of the technology the German manufacturer has been working on for the last decade. With an electric motor situated in an all-carbon fiber body, the i3 retains BMW’s characteristic rear-wheel-drive layout and moves forward with a lightweight car that can drive 100 miles or so with a single charge. It’s a model in what will become BMW’s “i” electric division.
Who It’s For
Greenies only have so many options right now: the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and the Fisker Karma at the $100,000 end of the spectrum. The BMW i3 will add some cache to the segment not only with its badge, but also with its adventurous styling and driving dynamics that BMW promises will stay true to the automaker’s heritage of premium performance automobiles. It will be for early adopters and the Hollywood green scene as much as any other hybrid or electric car. But it will have a premium appeal that may make the premium paid for electric cars seem a little more digestible for tomorrow’s technology today.
The BMW i3 will be the first mass-produced car with a body made completely of expensive, lightweight carbon fiber. The car will also have:
- A 168-horsepower electric motor, outpowering most of its competition.
- An optional small two-cylinder engine that the car will use as a range extender generator.
- A 22-kilowatt-hour battery pack, meaning that it will have slightly less juice in its lithium-ion cells than the Nissan Leaf’s.
- Futuristic styling that BMW will only use for its “i” cars, meant to separate its electric vehicles from its standard fossil fuel cars and crossovers.
What We Think
The BMW i3 marks a revolution in the manufacturing processes in the automotive industry. Carbon fiber used to be reserved for military aerospace technology. Then, it trickled to supercars. Now, it’s headed for the i3 and its larger sibling, the i8 sports car. Consider that with the exception of those BMWs, the next-cheapest car made of the space-age material will be the $235,000 McLaren MP4-12C supercar. BMW plans to sell the i3 for less than $60,000, probably even less than $50,000 after federal tax incentives. It’s going to be a game-changer. BMW expects to sell 30,000 annually, which means the i3 will be far from a limited production venture. It may look tamer when it hits production in the next few years, but the technology won’t be. We can’t wait to see how BMW is planning to market and sell a relatively affordable, high-tech electric runabout like the i3.