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BMW i3 Enters the Electric Scrum

The i3 retains the powertrain of the BMW Active E, albeit with a lighter battery load, and maintains the performance with 120 kilowatts of power and 250 Newton meters of torque, hitting 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. The range is about 80 to 100 miles.

"Being the spearhead of change means taking a calculated risk," BMW chief executive Norbert Reithofer told shareholders in May. "There is no guarantee of success . . . Progress has to be imagined, earned and paid for."

Squaring Off Against Tesla and the Rest

That risk-taking may very well net BMW plaudits for innovation but may not pay-off in the near future. But such is the proposition of a long-term investment.

"Like all EVs, it's expensive for its size and has a limited driving range, so only a limited pool of car buyers will be interested," said Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain at LMC Automotive. "The BMW name gives it extra cachet, but we don't see them outselling the Nissan Leaf."

The price point is, after all, above the Leaf ($28,800) and the Volt ($39,145).

Omotoso feels the i3 is aimed at wealthy buyers who may have a $50,000 Corvette as a second car or a bunch of classic cars.

"But that's a limited pool of buyers, some of whom aren't environmentally conscious so they'd rather have an old muscle car or supercar that gets 8 miles per gallon than a shiny new zero emission vehicle," he said.

For those who want the electric novelty with performance, the Tesla Model S is a gorgeous sports sedan--though can reach toward a six-figure price point and above.

"The Model S is doing surprisingly well--one reason being that it has a driving range up to 300 miles for the 'signature' version compared to 70 to 100 miles for a typical EV," Omotoso said. "But the stigmas against EVs are still a) limited driving rage, b) lack of infrastructure and c) high price." The EV slandering and high-price point have not prevented the Model S from selling, with the car on pace to hit 20,000 units sold this year.
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