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TheStreet Open House

2014 Car of the Year: BMW i3

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Automotive history has its iconic milestones. Ford's (F) Model T brought assembly-line mass production. Volkswagen's Beetle brought the automobile to the masses starting around World War II. The 1982 Audi 100 brought the modern aerodynamic design.

In the last couple of years, however, electrification of the automobile has accelerated the change we have seen in the industry. This electrification comes in many stages and variants, from pure electric cars to those with only mild electric assistance to a gasoline engine.

The 2011 car of the year was the Chevrolet Volt. It is a zero-compromise car where full power is available using any combination of electricity and gasoline. The first 38 miles are on electricity, and after that, a 9-gallon gasoline tank takes you another 340 miles. The price is around $40,000. (Chevrolet is a unit of GM (GM).)

The 2013 car of the year is the Tesla (TSLA) Model S. It's a pure electric car, and a giant 85 kWh battery takes you 265 miles with tremendous performance. The price for a Tesla with this size battery is $80,000 .

The next major automotive achievement looks to be the BMW i3, and it comes to market in December 2013, according to BMW. This car is the first to define a whole new class of electrification, presenting a new compromise between electric range and gasoline capabilities.

Actually, there will be two versions of the BMW i3. One version will be a very simple all-electric version with a range of 80-100 miles. As such, it slots in well below the Tesla Model S, but perhaps slightly above Nissan (NSANY) LEAF, Ford Focus Electric, and some others such as Chevrolet Spark EV, which will hit the market in 2013 shortly before the BMW i3.

The far more interesting version of the BMW i3 will be the version that includes a so-called range extender. In English, this means a gasoline engine, which provides extra range when the battery has been drawn down.

So how is this different from the Chevrolet Volt, you say? The Chevrolet Volt has 38 miles of electric range, and then a sizable 1.4 liter, four-cylinder engine kicks in to provide full driving power after those 38 electric miles. With a 9-gallon tank, this extended range is more than 340 miles, making this car suitable for road trips between places such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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