BMW may be 18 months away from putting its first purpose-built electric vehicle on sale, but efforts to drum up demand are already well under way.
Today saw the opening of a showroom on London’s Park Lane, devoted to the company’s new “i” sub-brand. It is the first of a series of dedicated outlets that will spring up in other so-called megacities, such as Shanghai and Tokyo, showcasing BMW’s i3 urban electric car and i8 plug-in hybrid coupe .
The company will shortly kick off a promotional “Born Electric” tour, commencing in Rome and reaching London in early 2013 , ahead of the i3’s arrival in late 2013, followed by the i8 in 2014.
BMW has also described the range of services it will offer to future BMW i buyers, gathered under a new “360° Electric” slogan.
Perhaps the most innovative offering will be roadside assistance for electric cars left stranded by a flat battery. Rather than dispatching a tow-truck to haul an immobile i3 away, the company plans to invest in mobile rapid charging units – presumably trucks stuffed with banks of high-capacity batteries – capable of donating enough charge to get an e-motorist up and running again.
Among more predictable offerings, BMW plans to provide the means to pre-book charging points to ensure they are available when needed , smartphone apps to guide drivers to charging points, and even its own design of wallbox for rapid charging at home. It also plans to extend the DriveNow car-sharing service, which currently operates only in Munich and Berlin, to cater for destinations beyond the limited range of a battery-powered i3.
The opening of the Park Lane showroom also saw the debut of a revised version of the i3 Concept vehicle, adapted to carry a new BMW-designed folding electric bicycle.
The Pedelec is intended to form part of the 360° Electric plan , but remains a concept offering at present. Like the BMW i cars, the bicycle is largely fabricated from aluminium and carbon fibre, and is electrically powered. A limited number have already been made, and 200 will see service at this summer’s Olympic Games.
The Pedelec is designed to cover the “last mile” in a chain of transportation that might involve the i3 or i8, car sharing, and public transport such as London’s Underground. When folded, the Pedelec adopts an upright stance allowing it to be steered and wheeled around while taking up a fraction of its unfolded length.
The 20kg bicycle will offer 250 watts of pedalling assistance at speeds up to 16mph, with a range of 16 to 25 miles from its 300Wh lithium-manganese battery. A full recharge will take between 1.5 and four hours, depending on the power supply used.
Mounting points in the rear of the i3 Concept allow a pair of Pedelecs to be carried side by side, clamped securely to the backs of the folded rear seats. The i3 also provides charging points, allowing the Pedelecs to be topped up either from the i3’s own much larger battery , or charged simultaneously while the i3 is connected to the grid.
The updated i3 Concept also displayed a new interior fashioned from a variety of natural and sustainable materials . The dashboard features eucalyptus wood grown in Europe, while the upholstery is trimmed with leather dyed using extracts of olive leaves alongside a fabric woven from natural wool fibres.
Benoit Jacob, head of design for the BMW i brand, said the i3’s interior was unusually airy and spacious for a car measuring less than four metres in length, comparing it to an urban loft on wheels .
“We want to offer more than an electric car,” Jacob added. “As a premium carmaker we want to offer craft and beauty combined with sustainability and responsibility. And also the idea of cleverness. We need more clever solutions for the environment.”
Jacob argued that woollen seats were an example of this cleverness, given the material’s natural tendency to feel cool in summer and warm in winter.
BMW spokespeople remain vague on questions of price and sales models for the BMW i cars. Ian Robertson, BMW’s board member responsible for sales and marketing, said that the high-performance i8 would likely cost in excess of €100,000, and that the i3 would have premium pricing compared to today’s electric vehicles from volume manufacturers .
Robertson also deflected questions about outright sale versus leasing of the cars or their batteries. “There will be a whole set of different options tailored to different countries, as well as some of the new concepts such as DriveNow and car sharing,” he said.
Despite relatively slow sales of early electric cars such as the Nissan LEAF, Robertson said BMW remains confident that the i3 and i8 will find plenty of buyers in the long term.
“We know which markets are attractive, and we know where government policies are heading,” Robertson said. “We know that the volume of cars like these will build up over time. It will become an aggressive, volume-growth market around the world.”
Robertson predicted that plug-in hybrid powertrains in particular would have a huge role to play in meeting ever-tighter emissions rules. “Legislation on CO2 is moving in one very clear direction,” he said. “It will go down – and go down dramatically, particularly between 2015 and 2025.”