Is This BMW's New Electric Car?


On July 29, BMW 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' 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' 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 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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Fool contributor Katie Spence has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow her on Twitter: @TMFKSpence. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors and Tesla Motors and owns shares of Tesla Motors . 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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