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TheStreet Open House

How the Chevy Volt Became a BMW

Stocks in this article: GM

The benefits of the Volt architecture would then also apply to the BMW i8: All-electric range for some distance, in the Volt's case 25 to 50 miles, followed by "extended range" where the battery is charged by the gasoline generator for another perhaps 300 miles or more. If you assume 40 MPG and a 9-gallon tank, that's another 360 miles following the first 25 to 50 all-electric miles.

Marketing Bonanza

It looks from the early information about the BMW i8 that it will be a much more expensive car than the Volt because it will be built with much more expensive, aka lightweight, materials. Using these expensive materials, the BMW i8 will obviously weigh a lot less, and therefore yield faster acceleration and perhaps longer range.

Media speculation about the BMW i8 has suggested that the price may be as high as $100,000 to $120,000, or many times above a fully loaded Chevy Volt, which sells for $44,575 before tax credits. The price of the i8 is of course pure speculation at this point.

Here is where the fun starts for GM: Marketing. When the i8 hits the market, what will BMW call it? "BMW's answer to the Volt"? "How BMW copied the Volt but tripled the price"?

Somehow I doubt it. BMW is likely to stay away from admitting that its new flagship car is essentially a re-jumbled Chevrolet Volt built by more expensive, light-weight, materials.

But from GM's side? I'm expecting a field-day! The mood at the GM marketing department surely will resemble a late-night comedian's show-prep following a major presidential gaffe.

Some ideas for GM's marketing department: "BMW's version of the Volt: Only triple the price!"

"BMW's new flagship copycat car: Only three years behind the Volt."

I predict that as the BMW i8 hits the market in early 2014, either of two things will happen:

1. Now that BMW has validated the Volt design by pulling out all the stops to copy it, it will finally bring the Volt the kind of respect it earned right away by those who have actually driven the car -- whether automotive journalists or, of course, the owners themselves.

2. On the downside potential, will the fact that Frank Weber led the Volt project and then transferred it to BMW, transfer the Volt pox onto BMW's door? In other words, will this new car from BMW mean that the BMW image would turn negative because a key BMW engineer led the Chevy Volt project? Will the people who criticize the Volt today start dumping on BMW to the same degree?

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