Is This BMW's New Electric Car?

On July 29, BMW (NASDAQOTH: BAMXF  ) is unveiling its new i3 electric car. Further, BMW's i8 Spyder electric sportscar, is set to launch in 2014. With these moves, BMW will catapult into the electric-car ring. While many of the specifics are being kept under wraps, the details that are known are impressive. More importantly, for other electric-car manufactures, BMW's move could spell trouble. Here's why.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. 

Technology meets German engineering
According to BMW, the i3 has a pure-electric range of 80 to 100 miles and has an optional range extender that lengthens that initial range by 80 miles. Additionally, thanks to BMW's eDrive technology, a driver can extend the initial range up to 124 miles by putting the vehicle in one of the "EcoPro" modes. The battery that "fuels" the i3 is a lithium-ion battery that powers not only the drive system but every vehicle function as well. Plus, the battery can reach 80% replenishment in 30 minutes with the fast-charging option. Further, where possible, BMW used sustainable resources -- such as a dashboard made from wood 100% sourced from responsible forestry, and cowhide sourced from southern Germany, and tanned using 100% natural extract from olive leaves. 

More excitingly, Top Gear's drivers test-drove the BMW i3, and where in the past they've been critical of electric cars such as Nissan's Leaf, for the i3 they gave a glowing report and said:

At first sampling, then, this is a compelling electric car. It's not the first on the market, but BMW has put some original thinking into almost every part of its design and engineering. It drives sweetly, is distinctively designed, and has the reassuring range-extender option if you are anxious about running flat. 

Beauty meets technology
BMW designed the i8 Spyder to be a "green performance" sports coupe, and to be the "ultimate driving machine." Powered by a li-ion battery, the i8 can go approximately 20 miles on pure electricity before switching to the range extender hybrid powertrain, similar to General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) Chevy Volt. Speaking of the engine and the battery, each is positioned over its respective axis, which adds to the i8's impressive 50/50 weight distribution. Further, with 406 pounds of torque, the i8 can go from 0 to 62 mph in less than five seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph. And with its two drive systems, the i8 can be driven in an "all wheel drive" mode, giving the i8 optimum performance in inclement weather.   

Although BMW hasn't revealed the exact details of what the car will look like, reports indicate that the i8 concept car is not far off of the final design. If that's true, the i8 was designed to be absolutely breathtaking.  

Even the best technology can have problems
BMW is no newcomer when it comes to impressive cars, and its foray into electric vehicles promises to adhere to BMW's well-deserved reputation for excellence. Still, both of these vehicles will probably be pricey, and though BMW is not by any means "cheap," reports indicate that its electric cars will be even more expensive.  

Additionally, while the i3 has better range than many of the all-electric vehicles currently on the market, especially if driven in an "EcoPro" mode, its limited range may be a deterrent to consumers, although BMW told Top Gear that it expects i3 buyers will use it as a second car.

More pointedly, the i3 and i8 both use expensive li-ion batteries, which over time decrease in their ability to hold a charge and are expensive to replace. Still, BMW is not a small company and has the necessary resources for further research into battery technology, and consumers who would normally shop for a vehicle like a BMW are probably more willing to spend the extra money than someone who would typically shop for a car similar to a Ford Focus. Consequently, what are deterrents to EVs in general are unlikely to hurt BMW.

Electric cars, beware; BMW is coming for you
Right now there are a number of electric cars on the market, but it's likely that BMW's EVs will be more expensive than Toyota Motors' (NYSE: TM  ) Prius, or Nissan's Leaf. But depending on where BMW prices its EVs, the i3 and i8 are likely to be serious contenders for that respective market share. For Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) and, possibly, GM's Chevy Volt, BMW's EVs could be a threat as they impact the niche for higher-end EVs. As such, this is something investors, and car enthusiasts, should keep their eyes on.

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Read/Post Comments (35) | Recommend This Article (15)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 12:21 PM, normgarry wrote:

    It's too small and I doubt it will meet American street safety standards. Those glass doors are never gonna pass side-impact tests. If this ever sees production, it will be a very limited sale model at a cost you probably won't be able to afford - just like the Model S.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 12:35 PM, Marshgre wrote:

    If it has a "range extender" it is not am EV it is a hybrid.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 1:16 PM, jamesdan567 wrote:

    Concept cars never look the same in production. 125 miles of range will make this car dead on arrival versus Tesla's cars at the same price

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 1:18 PM, UnknownInfidel69 wrote:

    Now that is a beautiful electric car. I wouldn't mind having one of those since I already went electric years ago.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 1:47 PM, ziggyfff wrote:

    sorry to be sexist but this is the third auto article this month by a woman writer that was severely lacking.. this is not an electric car and last I read Li-ion batteries hold up longer than most

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 1:49 PM, ckgod wrote:

    It's just a short range EV like Leaf or with option a extended range hybrid like Volt. Besides BMW has been one of the most over-priced and least reliable cars on the market. The brand name halo is not going to do them much good to compete in this totally new market.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 1:59 PM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    To everyone saying this isn't an electric car, and especially ziggyfff, the i3 is an ALL-ELECTRIC car with the OPTION to become a hybrid (additional purchase). Sheesh.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 3:04 PM, emailnodata wrote:

    If the car-makers were smart, they'd settle on a universal battery swap system right now.

    Doing so, and building them out to ubiquity, would end the "range" question, it would be no more a hindrance than gas mileage is now.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 3:05 PM, Connelky wrote:

    Meh, this wont sell much. Too small, will probably be too expensive, and that range is pretty bad.

    The market has been spoiled by tesla range. You need at least 200 miles to turn heads now.

    If BMW really wants to challenge tesla, they need an ev 3 series. 2 doors is niche. This could be the the warm up round for an ev 3 series, but I'm not so sure on that.

    BMW is greatly expanding the mini line, and the 1 series cars are all based on mini platform. My bet is the only ev we will see out of bmw is minis, which I don't believe will do extremely well in the US.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 3:33 PM, jesterisdead wrote:

    Universal battery will come, but it will take awhile for them to standardize the technology.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 5:18 PM, Jason87467 wrote:

    It's obvious the person who wrote this is a lover of German cars. For some reason, we Americans are brainwash in thinking German engineering is the best. As an auto enthusiast and I don't think that..Take the new ATS Cadillac outdoing what is considered the bencmark Series 3 BMW's......let's not sell ourselves short.

    We don't know yet what GM will come out with gen2 Volt, but I'm willing to say it well beat these German's EV's in price and technology.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 7:56 PM, GeeBee3 wrote:

    It is not a hybrid, Marshgre didn't do his homework though he is prolific poster of opinions.

    Since the vehicle only has one power source which must power the entire vehicle, EcoPro will turn off non-essential functions to direct more power to the drive train. It will also limit acceleration and other wasteful modes and probably, my opinion, increase the auto-regen during slowing and braking.

    I think this is a great concept car and I look forward to its delivery to the general public, though it'll no doubt be priced at the Tesla level.

    Sadly the Porsche EV concept car burned to the ground which was quite a setback to the EV industry.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 8:44 PM, jaysan45432 wrote:

    why you write an article about the i3 (which looks awful) and have the picture be an i8 (sexy af)? totally misleading

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:05 PM, chrischamb1 wrote:

    This woman writes articles about the electric car universe with what seems to be very little to no knowledge what-so-ever! If you want to verify this, read her last article on Tesla. I never saw so many negative comments against one article or its author in my life. Which is what Katie Spence should get....

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:14 PM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    Chrischamb1 I read her last two Tesla articles and thought not only did she have a firm grasp of the technology, but also an insightful and detailed analysis of issues facing EVs. This BMW piece is right in line with that. I have noticed that there's a "cult" surrounding Tesla, and the crazies come out as soon as someone's less than complimentary of the company... Do you fit this category? Yeah.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:17 PM, jeffhre wrote:

    chriscamb1, grab some carbs man, just skip the small stuff!

    For all the comments about it's too much this and too much that, those are about the same comments for all of the 260 vehicles for sale in the US. No car is a one size fits all, do everything, be all and end all. BMW has a following, and will dip their toes into the market with this offering. Nothing more nothing less.

    Oh, just one more, the world won't change over night because of it. Just one more, Nuff' said.

    GeeBee3, ecopro won't turn the i3 into a hybrid. But the optional 600cc motorcycle sourced range extender would. Sort of like EV training wheels.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:23 PM, jeffhre wrote:

    Diggitydog27, I have found that name-calling in the midst of rabid crazies, does not elevate the name caller above the "cultists" as you characterize them. Besides Tesla has a great car.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:33 PM, chrischamb1 wrote:

    Why can't all you Tesla haters just sit down....take a couple of deep breaths and realize the reality that Elon Musk's company is the "State of the Art" when it comes to not only today's ALL electric cars, (not various forms of hybrids) but that it will also be the industry leader for the foreseeable future! The electric vehicles from EVERY other company are nothing more than window dressing loss leaders whose companies are only selling, (or more likely providing greatly subsidized leases) because these companies are so large that any loses booked on these poorly engineered vehicles means nothing at the end of the year (or quarter) when reporting results. Most of THESE buyers (lessee's) will be "One and Done" electric car consumers due to the total lack of range and the accompanying anxiety which comes with these inferior vehicles.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:44 PM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    I just call it like I see it, man. Tesla may have a nice car, but it needs to be road-tested to see how it performs over time (years), plus the battery is an issue, and the stock is over-hyped. I say that having a Masters in Engineering. I've read 100s of articles on Tesla and unless the author is 100% behind the company, people go nuts. Aka, cult following.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2013, at 9:50 PM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    And crischamb1 proves my point, again. BMW build its cars from the ground up, and for the last time the i3 IS AN ALL-ELECTRIC car! The range-extender is an OPTIONAL add-on, but is not standard on the ALL-ELECTRIC car. Dude, step off the Tesla soap box.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 12:39 AM, chrischamb1 wrote:

    Diggitydog27:

    Yeah......and without this so-called "range extender" this VERY EXPENSIVE BMW will get you a whopping 75 "real world" miles! Now there's great technology and engineering.........NOT! Peace "dude"

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 1:44 AM, phillipzx3 wrote:

    "If it has a "range extender" it is not am EV it is a hybrid. "

    A "hybrid" has an engine and an electric motor incorporated within the same drive system.

    A "Range extender" can be anything from a trailer towed genset to a trailer towed batter pack.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 2:14 AM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    Haha! Oh man, crischamb1, you're funny. Double down on that "hybrid" argument all you want, you're wrong. Flat out, wrong. Here's something to hang your hat on: M5. Look it up and then argue against BMW's technology and prowess.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 5:39 AM, Lugus wrote:

    80 to 100 miles? Tesla's offering provides 300 miles. They can make it as pretty as they want, but until they get the distant up I don't see it threatening Tesla at all.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 9:45 AM, Marshgre wrote:

    @GeeBee3

    I have done my homework. The BMW i8 is a plug in hybrid like GM's ELR and Volt the i3 has hybrid as an option.

    If the vehicle in question has an internal combustion engine it is by definition a hybrid.

    A 100 or so mile range may have sounded great if it werent for Tesla. Most manufacturers wanting to join in on the EV game have a long way to go to catch up to Teslas 200 mile range.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 10:02 AM, Marshgre wrote:

    @phillipzx3

    If the internal combustion engine is incorporated into the driveline with the electric motor it is known as a parallel hybrid - it can use electric or gas or both to drive the vehicle (Prius).

    If the internal combustion engine only provides "backup" power and is not connected to the drive wheels of the vehicle then it is known as a series hybrid - the electric motor drives the wheels and energy comes from the vehicles batteries or from the generator that is powered by the ICE. (Volt)

    The third type of hybrid uses the electric motor and batteries to drive one set of wheels while a traditional engine and transmission is used to drive another. (an EV with a pusher trailer would fall into this group, Volvo also has an experimental AWD diesel electric hybrid that fits this description).

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 11:22 AM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    Marshgre, the author stated that the i8 uses a hybrid power train similar to the Volt. So either your first critique was pure stupidity, or you were referring to the i3. I think you we're referring to the i3 and are now back pedaling. As has ready been stated repeated, the i3 is an all-electric car! Quit trying to finagle your way out of it. BMW is marketing it as an all-electric, by definition it's all-electric, it's ALL-ELECTRIC! Seriously, it's not hard to comprehend.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 1:21 PM, chrischamb1 wrote:

    Diggitydog27

    You can post 10,000 responses trying to point out how dumb the rest of us are, but it doesn't change the fact that the "all electric" version of the i3 will only get 75 miles per charge in real-world every day driving. I had a Leaf which was supposed to "easily" get 100 miles per full charge in everyday driving that never got more than 75, hence I became a "One and Done" all electric owner until I bought my 85KW model S, which gets 260-285 miles per full charge in everyday driving. BMW will either have to do one of two things to get sales of the i3 going: 1. Lower the price substantially and make it a "loss leader" as Nissan, Chevy and Ford have done by way of massive rebates for those who purchase, or 2. Offer "loss leading" lease rates which are subsidized even more than a purchase. Ultimately, 75-80 miles will NEVER be enough except for a very small niche market in America. But you already know this.....

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 1:40 PM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    Chrischamb1, you can try and explain away your dumb statements 10,000 ways, but you're still wrong. 1) i3 isn't a hybrid. 2) the price hasn't been released so unless you have a crystal ball... 3) BMW isn't Nissan. If you were "smart" enough to buy a Leaf, well, I think that says it all. It's pretty clear from your statements that you don't know anything about BMW, and are too ignorant to learn.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 2:33 PM, chrischamb1 wrote:

    Diggitydog27 (nice username)

    A few facts. (Try not to let them get in the way of your obsession with BMW)

    1. My last post dealt strictly with the i3 as an "all electric" (what, that wasn't clear enough)

    2. You offer ABSOLUTELY NO REBUTTAL to the points I offered.

    3. Your obsession with BMW is way more than any admiration that I have for Elon Musk and his companies.

    4. Your resulting to insults and name calling are a clear indication of your frustration and the fact that many respondents have touched a nerve if they dare question anything that mighty BMW does which one can deduce means you KNOW that there may be one truth to what they are saying.....Peace!

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 2:51 PM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    Chrischamb1, you're a comic, aren't you? Because that's the ONLY way your latest post makes sense! Your "facts" aren't facts. They're your baseless assumptions and yeah, I refuted them by pointing out that you don't know what you're talking about (remind me again, what's the price on the i3??). You called the i3 a hybrid in your previous posts: don't try to deny it. Oh, and you compared BMW to Nissan. That really says it all. The BMW 320d can go 1000 miles on ONE tank of gas. Makes your Tesla's 260-285 look pretty silly if you ask me. Good luck with your Tesla, though.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 4:21 PM, chrischamb1 wrote:

    Diggitydog27

    Weak response......weak arguments......name calling.....lack of facts.....clear anger when presented with contrary views.

    Nuff Said

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2013, at 4:40 PM, Diggitydog27 wrote:

    Chrischamb1, haha, okay buddy. Who made fun of who's username in his argument? Oh yeah, YOU! Hey, remind me again, what's the price for an i3? You claim to know (and base a large part of your "facts" on the price), but I've asked a number of times now, and still I'm getting nothing... Come on, I'm still waiting on your hard-hitting argument based on facts...

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2013, at 12:31 PM, Oseo wrote:

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the BMW cars you are reffering to above are the following:

    - A compact EV with a range of up to 80 miles (120 if driven lightly) for $41,000 base price, with an option to turn it into a hybrid (gas consuming) for an unspecified lot more

    - A large, expensive, hybrid that underperforms a Tesla Model S. Which has two trunks.

    Another key point is that Tesla has built an infrastructure of charging stations across the country for its customers. Where are BMW's charging stations? Nowhere. There is a lot of pressure from other car manufacturers to strut whatever stuff they have in the face of a product like Tesla. There's a good reason: they are quite aware they have nothing that compares to a Tesla. The challenge to writers of articles is to report hybrids as hybrids (not range extenders), electric vehicles as electrics (they aren't if they consume gas), and gasoline cars as gasoline cars. Given the amount of investment that a company like BMW seems to have put into a large hybrid, as above, and a low-range-electric-with-option-to-become-hybrid, you can expect that, in the near future, you will be standing facing a Tesla crowd (with a vastly superior car) that will judge you by the validity of the content of your articles.

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2013, at 12:38 PM, Oseo wrote:

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the BMW cars that BMW is offering as "electrics" are as fallow's:

    - A compact EV with a range of up to 80 miles (120 if driven lightly) for $41,000 base price, with an option to turn it into a hybrid (gas consuming) for an unspecified lot more

    - A large, expensive, hybrid that underperforms a Tesla Model S. Which has two trunks.

    Another key point is that Tesla has built an infrastructure of charging stations across the country for its customers. Where are BMW's charging stations? Nowhere. There is a lot of pressure from other car manufacturers to strut whatever stuff they have in the face of a product like Tesla. There's a good reason: they are quite aware they have nothing that compares to a Tesla. The challenge to writers of articles is to report hybrids as hybrids (not range extenders), electric vehicles as electrics (they aren't if they consume gas), and gasoline cars as gasoline cars. Given the amount of investment that a company like BMW seems to have put into a large hybrid, as above, and a low-range-electric-with-option-to-become-hybrid, you can expect that, in the near future, you will be standing facing a Tesla crowd (with a vastly superior car) that will judge you by the validity of the content of your articles.

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