In Frankfurt last Friday, BMW presented for the first time its concept versions of the i3 electric city car and the i8 hybrid supercar. As part of a plan to fend off Audi, BMW’s new electric-powered city car features a lounge feel with bench seats, leather that’s a naturally tanned "mocha brown,” as well as the use of hemp fibers in the floor covering. According to CEO Norbert Reithofer, the i8 is priced higher than 100,000 euros ($143,000). These models will anchor BMW's new "i" sub-brand.
Development chief Klaus Draeger said that most of the current electric vehicles are so-called conversions of traditional vehicles and that there are always compromises when undertaking conversions.
Draeger said that what BMW aimed for was to offer e-mobility “without compromise." BMW expects that its investment amounting to 530 million euros ($756 million) to establish production of the vehicles will pay off in the race with Audi, which did better than Mercedes-Benz this year.
Audi aims to beat BMW and become the luxury-car leader by 2015. Sales chief Ian Robertson said that initial volumes for the models may reach the "tens of thousands," with the possibility that it will increase rapidly depending on market and regulatory developments.
Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisberg- Essen, said that if this project succeeds, BMW will get an edge in terms of innovation and Audi will find itself in a “difficult situation.”
BMW's two electric cars use a carbon-fiber frame and an aluminum underbody to reduce their weight and to cut battery costs. For this project, BMW has invested in a new carbon-fiber factory in the U.S. and a 400 million-euro expansion of its plant in Leipzig, Germany. The i3 will start selling in 2013, while the i8 will follow in 2014.