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BMW i3 Enters the Electric Scrum

Stocks in this article: TSLA


In a sense, though, BMW's intention here is not to provide a high volume model.

The electric vehicle with an ultra-light carbon fiber body with aluminum frame reinforcement is really still a work in progress, according to Brett Smith, an industry analyst at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"In many ways, the i3 is sort of like the Volt in that it is a fully functional, user-ready prototype," he said. "It's a real production car: in a sense it is not an experiment, but it is experimental."

The point here, according to Smith, is for BMW to put its green foot forward and brand itself as innovative and of the future regarding alternative, electric mobility.

" The i3 pushes the discussion further in that direction," he said. "It's intended to be a statement in so many different ways."

And that statement can be made by selling a couple thousand units, with no need to move massive numbers off the lots.

That's fortunate, given that the price point north of $40,000 may be a stretch for most consumers.

"For a micro car, that's really pushing people's imagination," Smith said.

Of course, not everyone agrees it's so outlandish.

"Once the tax incentives available are factored in, we think the price point is actually attractive and this may drive sales ahead of current expectations," said Paul Newton, research manager of the automotive group at IHS Global Insight. "Overall, initial entry costs and practicality remain significant barriers to widespread adoption, but things will grow, albeit slowly."

Tech Appeal

People don't necessarily care if the future has arrived yet--they just want to be a part of it.

The EV market may still be in embryonic form and working through the growing pains, but the early adopters will buy for the same reason they went out to snag the first iPad.

"It's a badge of honor," Smith said.

The car has coach doors, bench seats and a floor absent a divider hump to make the teensy vehicle more fluid in terms of entering and exiting. The car has the classic look with the Hofmeister kink (that low forward bend in the C-pillar), but it has outwardly modern flare with LED BMW kidneys and U-shaped tail lights to complement the carbon fiber body.

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