BMW has unveiled its first all-electric car – the i3 – and said it is serious about battery powered vehicles.
At a launch in London, the sales chief for the world’s biggest luxury carmaker, Ian Robertson, said: “We’re not entering to be a niche player. This is a strategic direction for us, this is something that we’ve looked at very very holistically and something I think the company will benefit from for many, many years to come.”
BMW says it was targeting a “meaningful” chunk of the electric car market and expects demand to rise as the number of people living in cities increases over the next 20 to 25 years.
However, it is a big gamble as consumers remain sceptical about such vehicles.
One reason is the cost; the four-seater i3 will start at almost 35,000 euros, though it does qualify for tax breaks and generous upfront government incentives in markets such as Britain and the US.
There are also concerns about its driving range – which is 160-kilometres, but additional range can be added by ordering the car with a two-cylinder engine mounted at the back. BMW said that will add another 250 to 300 km.
BMW is predicting the market for electric vehicles will grow to between 150,000 and 160,000 vehicles globally this year, from 7,000 in 2010.
Robertson said demand for such cars will rise as the number of people living in urban environments more than doubles to four to five billion over the next 20-25 years. He cited United Nations projections.
BMW’s home government – Germany – is keen and wants to have one million electric cars on its roads by the end of the decade.
Tougher emission rules in the EU and California are also a powerful incentive.
John McIlroy, editor of the magazine What Car, said: “BMW’s rationale behind the i project is that this is a business case. They see that in mega-cities like London, Tokyo and Beijing, we’re going to see legislation make it harder and harder for car manufacturers in general to sell cars into those regions.”
The first of the cars – which are made of carbon-fibre with an aluminium chassis – should be in dealers’ showrooms by November.