To tie in with the Olympics, BMW has opened its first showroom for electric cars in London's Park Lane.
It is exhibiting the i3 electric hatchback (a competitor for the Nissan Leaf) and the BMW i8, the £100,000 plug-in hybrid. We say "exhibiting" because the cars do not go on sale until the end of 2013. However, BMW feels that with 160 electric BMWs and 40 electric Minis on the Olympic fleet, it is the right time to introduce the cars to the public.
The i3 will have a range of approximately 100 miles and is expected to cost in the region of £30,000 - £35,000 after the £5,000 government subsidy. BMW is positioning it as an upmarket alternative to the Nissan Leaf and it certainly looks like a premium product, especially on the inside. BMW says the i3 on show is the concept vehicle, but the production car will be "80%-85%" the same.
At the opening ceremony, we took the opportunity of asking Ian Robertson, Sales and Marketing Director of BMW in Germany, where he thought electric vehicles would be in 2020. He reckoned pure electric vehicles would only take around 3%- 4% of the market, but hybrids would be over 10%. He also made the interesting point that the policies of national governments are not the only influencing factor - what city mayors decide is equally important. For example, if London were to make special electric vehicles the only ones that were Congestion Zone-exempt, that would make a massive difference to overall demand.
BMW was also keen to point out that the electric drivetrain is only half the story of the i3. The other half is the fact that it will be the first series production car to use a carbon-fibre bodyshell, which BMW says is at least 50% lighter than an equivalent steel one. BMW believes that, by becoming the first company in the world to mass produce carbon fibre in any industry, it will have a key technological advantage. Up to now, carbon fibre has been effectively hand-made, which is why it is seen on racing cars, but not on everyday models.