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BMW’s i3 needs to shock the EV market if it wants to be Bavaria’s battery-powered champ

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When it comes to introducing new technologies, it’s often companies that are first to market who enjoy the most success. Just look at Ford and its mighty Mustang, Chrysler and its popular lineup of minivans, and more recently, Toyota, who announced that it has sold its 3 millionth Prius hybrid .

The minivan, pony car, and hybrid were the cause or were near the birth of their respective segments. BMW, of course, wants to be a part of this pantheon of trend-setting companies as well. And with its upcoming all-electric i3 EV (a plug-in hybrid is also in the works) it can be. However, in order for it to make waves, it needs to get the i3 out the door and onto the streets ASAP.

BMW obviously isn’t the first automaker to bring a full electric vehicle to the market, but with the release of its eagerly anticipated i3, which is rumored to arrive on North American shores in January 2014, it will be the first established luxury automaker to offer a high-end electric EV to the masses. But more exciting than that is the fact that it’s looking like it won’t cost a boatload of cash to buy (that’s what the i8 is for).

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If recent rumblings are to be believed, the electric city car’s sticker price is pegged at $35,000, which will get you an eco-minded Bimmer that has a perfect 50/50 weight distribution, can go from 0-62 mph in 7.2 seconds, and gets an estimated electric driving range of 81-99 miles in everyday driving from its 22 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

Now, 35 grand might sound like a lot and in many ways it is. Sure, BMW is slapping a healthy heap of carbon fiber and the pancaked-style battery pack is likely going to cost an arm and a leg to produce, but what greenies should consider is that this is a an EV from BMW, a brand that has cemented its reputation on building cars with performance and driving dynamics that often seem out of this world. If that sounds like hyperbole then you obviously haven’t driven a 3-Series in like … ever.

That’s of course assuming the i3 delivers and we have no way of knowing until we drive one. BMW is already up against a sea of competitors – good ones to boot.

Fiat 500e
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The Fiat 500e is an amazing EV, arguably one of if not the best on the (affordable) market, which is a shame considering it’s only available in California right now. Honda’s Fit EV is right there with it. The Fit’s dynamic sport mode and confident manners make it one of the most exciting to drive and Honda’s recent price drop is almost too good to be true. Like the Fiat though, it’s only available in a small number of states, limiting its usefulness to interested parties outside of Oregon, California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

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Of course EV competition like the Nissan Leaf, Honda Fit EV, and the Fiat 500e, while good, do not carry the same weight brand-wise as a “BMW.” Remember, luxury cars are as much about the badge on their nose as they are the actual performance. BMW has a leg up in this regard as its reputation precedes it.

Currently the Nissan Leaf is sitting pretty as the top selling electric car of all time. The Japanese automaker has sold more than 50,000 of the cars worldwide. To add some perspective, Honda sells roughly 30,000 Civics a month, but for a segment very much in its infancy, Leaf sales are nevertheless impressive.

But the Leaf, for all its trappings, is not a luxury car, it’s not even the best EV on the market (I’d argue the Fit EV and 500e any day of the week, not counting Tesla’s Model S of course). It’s a very good car, but its modest success is largely attributed to the fact that it was the first mass produced EV to market when it debuted in 2010.

Nissan knows this, which is why its luxury wing Infinity is hard at work developing an EV of its own. Last year Infinity showed off its LE concept sedan at the 2012 New York Auto Show. The all-electric luxury sedan was said to drop in 2015, a full year after the reported 2014 debut of the BMW i3, with some impressive specs: a 4-kWh lithium-ion battery, a 100-kw electric motor producing 134 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, and a 100-mile range. Some chatter about utilizing the black art of wireless charging was also mentioned.

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Now, reports say the EV will be delayed beyond that because it wants to add better tech, with Infinity refusing to give a concrete release date. Better tech is great, but by delaying its luxury EV, Infinity could be handing the keys to the segment over to competitors like BMW.

What automakers delving into the EV game need to understand is that you can’t just wow consumers at car show and then delay product launches, you need to grab their attention first and then deliver a real product that they can run out and buy.

We can talk about concepts and designs studies until we’re blue (green?) in the face but unless that amazing new EV is available in your area, are you even paying attention? BMW isn’t guilt-free either, the i3 has been on the radar for some time now.

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But for BMW, the date draws near and the i3 needs the same momentum the Leaf had to get it going. It needs to be the first luxury automaker to bring a better EV to market and the fact that the i3 is shaping up to be (mostly) affordable bodes well not only for BMW but for EV adopters looking for something more upscale and prestigious. And here’s the thing: BMW’s are inherently cooler than Nissans, Hondas, and Fiats. And I don’t care what anyone says, new technology in the EV segment is almost always cool and there are always early adopters out there that just can’t wait to get their hands on the “next best thing,” so let’s drive the i3 already.

We’ve been excited for the BMW i3 for what seems like forever now and it finally looks like there’s a light at the end of this dark, dark tunnel. BMW just needs to get its Bavarian butt in gear and get the i3 out the door – and fast!

Amir Iliaifar
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Associate Automotive Section Editor for Digital Trends, Amir Iliaifar covers the ever increasing cross-section between tech…
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