BMW officially unveiled its new electric car in New York, and it is already working to cure potential owners of the range anxiety that comes with vehicles that run on batteries, not gasoline. The automaker is pushing the i3 as an urban vehicle, with a range of 80 to 100 miles. That's more than enough for the majority of commuters, and BMW points out that the average daily drive is about 40 miles. But $41,350 is a lot of money for a car that's really only useful in the city, and the 100-mile range is not much better than that of the Chevy EV Spark, which starts at $27,495.
The top version of the Tesla Model S can go 300 miles, but costs $94,900—out of the range of mortal folks, who might have some reservations about Elon Musk promoting one-way trips to Mars anyway. The problem with larger-than-life eccentrics seems to be that their dreams are only as permanent as the man. Remember John Britten, who rewrote the book on Superbikes in the 1990s, then died of cancer. No? Well look him up.
BMW has invested $2.7 billion in the carbon-fiber project, and is clearly banking on the i3's flexibility making it a game-changer. It will be followed by the i8 supercar within the next year, with 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds and a 155 mph top speed. But that's likely to cost $130,000 plus, so it's a limited market. Interestingly, the much-too-big-for-electrics U.S. has embraced EVs much more enthusiastically than Europe –– only 580 were sold in Germany last year. But then Europe has effective public transport.
For those who want to go farther in the i3, there are two ways to do it. The vehicle comes with an optional range-extender, a650cc two-cylinder gasoline engine that works like a generator for the battery. It can't power the car itself, but it can bring the range up to about 186 miles, a significant improvement.
And for those who want to take a road trip, BMW has a second solution: Drive a different car. Through the "Add-on Mobility" plan, i3 owners have "flexible access" to gas-powered BMW vehicles, including the X3 SUV, "with a specific amount of usage days."
BMW isn't the first to offer a rental program. Owners of the electric Fiat 500e get 12 free days of rental from Enterprise every year, for road trips. Depending on pricing (which has not been announced), the idea of having access to a BMW for long-distance driving is a good one. The i3 may prove to be an excellent car for day-to-day driving, and the "Add-on Mobility" will make it easier for city dwellers to get over their range anxiety and commit.
The EV jury's still out, but there's a lot of money on the table, and BMW has just upped the ante.––Paul DucheneBack to News