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At CES 2014, BMW Showed How It's Done

Stocks in this article: GOOG AAPL MSFT NSANY TSLA SNE GM F TM

For example, if at 5:30 p.m. every weekday when it's raining and you're alone in the car leaving work you tend to set the climate system a certain way and drive a particular route to the gym, it will set the systems accordingly. It may just have a 94% probability of hitting your actual preferences right on the money, saving you the time to enter the preferred settings.

In the broader context, however, it was BMW that stole the CES attention this year. Why? No, I'm not talking about the company's impressive self-driving race car demonstration. Good or bad, self-driving cars remain several years out and don't determine purchase decisions in 2014.

Rather, it was BMW's fleet of well over 50 i3 cars available for anyone to drive that proved to be the 2014 CES highlight. Why is this?

The BMW i3 is without a doubt the single most innovative and differentiated car that is hitting the market this year. Only the Tesla (TSLA) and the two GM cars -- Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR -- can match or exceed it in overall capability, such as total range.

The BMW i3 is different than all other cars for some visible reasons: It has an overall geometry that does not resemble any other car in the market. It's short, slightly on the narrow side, somewhat tall, has huge 20-inch wheels that are almost as narrow as motorcycle tires, coach ("suicide") doors and a radically new kind of open interior where you can move from side to side with ease.

Under the skin, the BMW i3 has an unique composition in the form of carbon fiber and plastic body panels, resulting in a weight that starts close to 2,000 lbs lower than a Tesla Model S, just as an example. Aside from Tesla and GM's two range-extended electric cars, the BMW i3 stands alone as the most radical car in the market for 2014 -- and you can see it from the first glance.

As a result, when a normal person -- who isn't already familiar with the i3 and its engineering -- sees the i3 for the first time, it's one of suspicion. The BMW i3 doesn't look like any other car, and certainly not like a BMW.

So how does BMW overcome this potential hurdle of radical unfamiliarity? It has decided to do it in the only way that's certain to work: get people to drive the car -- as many people as possible, and as many influential people as possible. That meant CES.

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