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BMW Admits Sluggish Sales of i3

Everyone knows the problems with electric cars, but they are worth repeating just to help petrol heads sleep soundly in their beds (for a little while more at least).

The range is terrible, at around 100 miles, and it hasn't changed much in a decade. What is more, this can shorten in a frightening manner if in-car electrics are used, such as the heater or the air conditioning, or if it's a cold day, which it is quite often in the UK. The second problem is charging time. In the absence of a fast-charger, which are few and far between and very probably not positioned outside your workplace, you are looking at several hours and most probably an overnight charge. 
 
This is also going to be a major problem if you live in town in a flat, as most urban dwellers do, as you won't have a drive to park in while the car is charging overnight. This is especially ironic because these cars are most often trumpeted as a solution to urban driving. The last problem is the price. Even with the generous £5,000 government subsidy, electric cars are expensive to buy. There is also some uncertainty as to how they will keep their value in the future. Will the car be overtaken by a new and better technology? Depreciation is therefore a problem. 
 
Not that it is all doom and gloom. Tesla has managed to move the goalposts with their Model S. They made the electric car luxurious and fast and even a little cool. They also managed the extend the range considerably. Electric cars had previously been seen as small city cars, but Elon Musk made his cars much bigger and that meant they could fit in more battery capacity and hence increase the range. The Model S has sold well and other, bigger, manufacturers took note.
 
One of these was BMW. They saw how electric cars could be luxurious and cool and how that would fit with their own brand. It wasn't long before the i3 arrived to fit into this new niche and replicate the success of the Tesla. Sadly, it didn't. In fact, the i3 is being outsold in the UK by the Nissan Leaf by a factor of three to one. Even more worryingly, in its domestic German market it is hardly selling at all. This, however, is at least in part due to the fact that electric car sales are almost totally dependent on incentives and the German government has been slow to adopt these tactics. 
 
There is also the slightly awkward fact that the i3 is actually a hybrid rather than a proper electric car. But the tiny petrol engine only has an even tinier tank that can take the i3 around 80 miles. This might be enough to limp home or to the nearest petrol station, but it is not much good for anything else. According to BMW, most people use their i3 as a pure electric car. 
 
Nevertheless, BMW remains committed to its 'I' electric car series. They have registered all the names from i0 to i9, and the current i8 has done better than expected in terms of sales. Although it only sold 1,700 units, this, says BMW, was higher than their own predictions for a car they expected to sell like a super car - in very small numbers. They are also bullish about the amount of money they have invested into their electric car programme and insist that it has not been squandered. The technology being developed, they say, will find its way into other, more mainstream cars.
 
They may have a point. The i-series cars have a special carbon fibre used in the body panels to keep the weight down. This is important when you are trying to squeeze every last mile out of the battery range. But it is also due to be used in the new 7-Series luxury saloon, where it is expected to slash 100kg off the weight of this mighty car. This will have a knock-on effect on fuel consumption, which will help the 7-Series to stay relevant for a little while longer. While this role as a technology test bed may not be the future for the electric car, it may be the present. And petrol heads can sleep soundly for a while longer, safe in the knowledge that the electric car is making their own cars even better.

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Back to March 2015

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