US: BMW aims for 3 series price for electric i3 image

The automaker’s top executive for the market said BMW expects the new i3 electric vehicle to be priced in the U.S. similarly to a 3 Series compact car and that demand will outstrip supply this summer.

The four-door i3 small car, the first offering of BMW’s new electric vehicle sub-brand, will reach U.S. showrooms in May, the company said. BMW is spending about $3 billion to develop the i3 and the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar, according to an estimate by the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

“It will be in the ballpark of a normally” equipped 3 Series, Ludwig Willisch, head of BMW North America. “The US will be the biggest BMW i market in the world,” Willisch added. “Will we get enough cars in the first year? Probably not. Again, that’s a nice problem to have.”

There are already 1,000 hand-raisers for the small electric vehicle with a lightweight carbon fiber body that has already launched in Europe, said Willisch. Willisch said he wants to sell “a couple thousand” in the first year. The biggest challenge is building the carbon fiber bodies in large numbers. The bodies are made by a joint venture in Moses Lake, Washington.

The i3 has a range of 80-100 miles and a range extender is available to double that distance. The car will be available in the US this summer starting at $42,275 and it is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

BMW has trademarked names starting with the i1 so there is room to expand the lineup of electric vehicles, Willisch said. The new electric vehicles arrive in US showrooms as BMW pushes to upgrade its stores. During the next five years, U.S. dealers will invest more than $2.5 billion in their outlets, expanding showroom capacity by 40 percent, Willisch said. He showed video of a model showroom in Germany that had light colors, open floor spaces, an emphasis on BMW’s new electric vehicles and a look similar to an Apple store. The changes are aimed at helping the brand appeal to younger customers and to help introduce the vehicles’ advance technologies, he said.