Will BMW's Revolutionary i3 Take the World by Storm, or Crash and Burn?

Here’s what you need to know about BMW’s upcoming i3 release.

Feb 23, 2014 at 10:00AM

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BMW i3. Photo: BMW. 

It's been on sale in Europe only since November, but BMW's (NASDAQOTH:BAMXF) i3 has already received almost 11,000 orders globally. For its first entirely electrically powered large-scale, serial production model, that's a pretty impressive number. Additionally, the i3 will begin sales in the United States in May, and will go on sale in China and Japan sometime during the middle of this year. So is the i3 set to take the world by storm, or will it crash and burn?

Introducing BMW's i3
With a starting MSRP of $41,350, BMW's i3 is a revolutionary vehicle in every way. Built from the ground up as an electric vehicle, the i3 comes standard with a 22-kWh lithium-ion battery, and an all-electric 170-horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, motor. This allows the i3 to go 0-60 in approximately 7 seconds, and have a range of 80-100 miles in Comfort mode -- that range can be increased by 24% simply by putting the i3 in Eco Pro + mode.  

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BMW i3. Photo: BMW.

For those that aren't comfortable with that range, BMW's i3 has an optional two-cylinder gasoline range extender that works as an onboard power station to extend the battery's charge -- it does not drive the wheels. This increases the range up to 186 miles in Comfort mode. With this option, the i3's starting MSRP is $45,200.

Further, as Car and Driver reports, BMW constructed the i3 with an aluminum "skateboard platform." Basically that's where the chassis is one self-contained unit, and the passenger cell, which is primarily made out of carbon fiber, is another.

Beyond the specs
That's all impressive, but of course the real question is how the i3 will affect BMW's bottom line. So far, demand has been strong, and there's currently a six-month waiting list for an i3. Plus, last October, BMW Chief Financial Officer Friedrich Eichiner said strong demand could lead BMW to increase production. The other good news is that Car and Driver reported that the i3's driving experience is "both familiar and pleasing in many ways, and unique in many others." 

More importantly, the i3 is BMW's first foray into large-scale, serial production of an EV. If it does well, there's a good possibility that BMW could extend its i line to a third model -- however, AutoNews reports that Harald Krueger, BMW's production chief, said that would depend on demand.

Consequently, while the i3 has so far seen strong demand, investors would do well to monitor how it does beyond its initial offering. If it continues to sell well, and doesn't encounter serious problems, that's likely great news for BMW. If, however, demand drops off, or major problems are reported, that should give investors pause. Regardless of how the i3 performs, BMW has a number of things going for it, and presents investors with impressive growth -- both in the U.S and China, and record-breaking sales. As such, it could merit a closer look if you're looking to profit from an auto stock. 

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Katie Spence has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends BMW. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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