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Paul Barker's blog: 9 August 2013 - Is electric BMW a game changer?

Date: 09 August 2013

Paul Barker is editor of BusinessCar

BMW wasn't shy about proclaiming its new i3 model, the first in the irritatingly-named-for-journalist-because-it-looks-like-an-error new i brand, as a huge deal.

At the unveiling I was wishing I'd had a fiver drop into my pocket every time I heard a variation on the theme of game-changer, or this being a historic moment for the car industry.

On many levels, BMW is spot-on. The i3 (see p12) is built in a factory powered by wind turbines, and uses carbon-fibre technology that's previously been the domain of six-figure supercars.

That means the i3 is lighter and more agile than other EVs, and the company is making bold claims about it being as good to drive as any regular BMW. That's the one area where other electric vehicles are ordinary at very best.

But by going for such a small petrol engine offering only an additional 100 miles to the car's electric mode, I'm worried the i3 will be handicapped against the admittedly more expensive Vauxhall Ampera, which works very well as a way of establishing EV technology in a way that doesn't impact heavily upon driver behaviour.

However, based on conducting copious field trials proving people don't drive as far as they think they do, BMW is adamant that the pure EV version will be more popular than the range-extender that costs in excess of £3000 more. In fact, the range-extender was hardly mentioned at the international unveiling.

BMW's entry into the EV sector will raise the whole market's profile, and it will be interesting to see how the i brand and the sector develop.