Just yesterday I was telling a friend of mine how I thought the Tesla Model S was currently the only truly viable electric car on the market. Less than 24hrs after that conversation it would seem things have changed. BMW dropped the details on their production ready i3 city car today, and it looks mighty promising in many respects. That said, it also raises a few questions for me.
The basic details of the i3 are as follows:
- Pricing starts around $41k — before any government discounts
- Range is said to be 80-100 miles per charge
- A full charge takes only 3 hours, or just 30 minutes with the optional SAE DC Combo Fast Charger
- A 650cc range extending gas motor is available as an option
- 170hp and 184ft/lbs of torque go to the rear wheels — from zero rpm
- Performance: 0-30 in 3.5sec, 0-60 in 7sec, and a top speed of 93mph
- The chassis is a carbon fiber reinforced plastic monocoque, a mass production first, which helps keep the weight down to around 2700lbs.
Looking at the details I see a few things that stand out…
First off is the acceleration, which seems like it will be almost perfectly linear — double the speed takes double the time: 0-30 takes 3.5sec, 0-60 takes 7sec. Translate that to 93mph, and the i3 should be able to go from zero to its top speed in just under 11 seconds, which makes it the next best thing after a golf cart.
All kidding aside, the i3 is clearly a city car, so there is no need to go more than 93mph. What the released numbers really say is that this thing will have zippy around town performance, with the ability to squirt from light to light faster than those incorrigible taxi drivers.
As for the 80-100 mile range per charge, the i3 is clearly meant to be a runabout, not a long-hauler. Most people in urban and sub-urban areas live within 50 miles of their workplace, and most shopping errands they run are local. That said, I would still always recommend getting the i3 with the optional range extender motor because it’s invaluable when you wind up needing it.
I think the biggest deal with the BMW i3 has to be the charge time. Realistically, we don’t need electric cars with a 1000 mile range, we need electric cars with a range of a couple hundred miles that can be fully recharged during a quick lunch. The i3 seems a massive step forward here, especially with the optional SAE DC Combo Fast Charger. Plugged in normally, 3 hours isn’t too much time for a charge, but the 20-30 minutes on the DC charger is really what this sort of car needed to be effective, and it’s got it.
In addition to all of the functional stuff, I must say that I love the aesthetics of the BMW i3 as well. Most cars get drastically watered down between concept form and production form, but not the i3. It looks massively futuristic, and I think it could help break the boring drouth of car design we have seen over the past two decades if it sells well. I also think the interior looks fantastic as well, also quite futuristic, but with a nice funky demeanor.
So the BMW i3 has certainly made quite an entrance for itself, but it has raised a few questions in my mind that I wish to leave you with:
- $41k is a lot of money to spend on a car that aims to save you money on fuel. The i3’s entry price is similar to that of the Chevy Volt, but the Volt hasn’t sold well because it is so expensive. The BMW will surely reach over $50k with options (maybe even $60k). So in terms of net cost, what is an i3 doing for me that a Prius or a Golf TDI wont do for half the price? And how long would I have to drive my car to make up for the extra $20-30k I spent on the Bimmer?
- Will the i3 appeal to the current BMW clientele base, or will BMW need to attract new types of buyers for this car? Most BMW customers these days want a flashy, posh looking car, and I’m not convinced they’ll want to drive around in something that looks like R2-D2.
- While the city car segment is big elsewhere around the world, here in America it is but a small market niche. While the i3 is definitely nicer than a Volt or a Prius, its small size may limit its appeal for many customers by comparison. Will the i3 be a good fit for American customers, or will BMW need to bring out a 3 Series with a similar powertrain before the technology will catch on here? I have no doubt that the i3 is a technological masterpiece, but a masterpiece in the wrong physical form isn’t going to sell.