If there’s something to be said for purity of intent and brand recognition, BMW’s i-series may be case examples.
Launched separately first in major markets and with more yet to open, the sub-brand Bimmers that plug in have together sold 30,661 units through the first half of this year.
The i3, with 26,205 sales, actually crossed the 25,000 milestone last month becoming the ninth plug-in electrified vehicle to do so and ahead of other plug-in cars that have had longer to achieve the same.
The i8 is however growing faster on a percentage basis at the moment, with 1,741 units delivered in 2014, and 2,715 in the first half of 2015. This is true despite supply having been constrained by the Leipzig factory with certain markets including the U.S. sold out till 2015.
Globally, 16,052 i3s were sold in 2014 and during the first half of 2015 there’s been another 9,846.
Launch for the i3 was first in Germany, November 2013, and in the U.S. May 2014. The i8 was launched in Germany in June 2014 and in the U.S. at Pebble Beach where a Concours d’Elegance Edition sold for $825,000 with proceeds going to the Pebble Beach Company Foundation.
The main markets for the i8, according to global sales tracker Mario R. Duran, are:
U.S. 1,288 (28.9 percent)
Germany 659 (14.8 percent)
UK 546 @ March 2015 (12.2 percent)
Switzerland 117 (2.6 percent)
Besides the i3, the only other plug-in electrified vehicls to cross 25,000 sales have been the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Outlander PHEV, Renault Zoe, BYD Qin, Toyota Prius PHEV, Tesla Model S, Chevy Volt and variants, and Nissan Leaf.
Off to a Good Start
The two i-Series cars are the only i-Series vehicles and by themselves are founding the sub-brand.
As you likely know, the i3 is a pure battery electric car starting just around $43,000, with optional range-extended version, and the i8 is a plug-in hybrid starting at just over $135,000.
Both use advanced production techniques, extensive light-weighting with carbon-fiber reinforced plastic bodies, and represent BMW’s commitment to sustainability.
Pure effort that it is, the i3 crossed the 25,000 unit sales milestone ahead of Ford’s C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi – admittedly different, but in common is they are ostensibly value-priced plug-in vehicles.
This happened despite the Energi plug-in hybrids having launched before the i-Series EV. The Fords are well received, having sold in the U.S. this year 4,290 (Fusion) and 3,543 (C-Max), but they were both hurt when Ford downgraded their advertised mpg last year.
According to Duran, other vehicles with stronger growth since 2014 are the Tesla Model S, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, BYD Qin, Renault Zoe – and the BMW i3.
Of all of these, upscale Tesla is doing much better, perhaps appealing even more to the “purity” of intent ethos. Model S just in the U.S. has sold this year over 12,000 units and leads the plug-in sales charts even ahead of the outgoing Volt and the Leaf.
Up in the air are a few variables in flux and BMW says it does not care to comment about future plans.
As outstanding as the i3 is, it will face a down-market upstart in the form of Chevy Bolt priced $5,000 less, but no less purpose-made, and with 200 miles EV range or more, instead of the BMW’s 81 miles. Also not long after will be the Tesla Model 3 and next-generation Nissan Leaf, also with 200-250 miles range anticipated.
Whether BMW will double the i3’s range to stay competitive on that front is unknown, and we’ve seen no solid indicators to date.
The i8, as its sales all along have indicated, is more a boutique product next to a very different all-electric Model S, but it’s unique, probably a better driver’s car at two-thirds the weight, and demand remains high.
BMW has been reported as developing an i5 that may bridge the gap between the base i3 BEV and special i8. Speculation on its release and specs is all over the map, but it could be the next i-series and here by 2018-2020 depending on whose estimate is more accurate.
Meanwhile in the face of cheap gas in the U.S., mixed feelings by consumers on battery cars, the i3 and i8 are trending respectably.