BMW i8 electric plug-in is 'supercar of the future'

BMW's forthcoming i8 plug-in is expected to produce BMW's forthcoming i8 plug-in is expected to produce 362 horsepower to speed the car from 0 to 62 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds, while delivering an average of 94 miles per gallon, BMW said. Photo Credit: BMW

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Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s rechargeable i8 sports car is entering a soon-to-be-crowded field of supercars with a hint of green. While they tap into Tesla Motors Inc.’s popularity, they’re for different buyers.

“This is the supercar of the future: It has the driving performance of an M3, but gets more than 80 miles per gallon,” Ludwig Willisch, BMW’s North American chief executive officer, said Aug. 15 in an interview in Pebble Beach, Calif. Relative to Tesla’s Model S, the i8 is “a whole different animal — it competes with different concepts.”

The early success of Model S, with about 10,000 North American deliveries in the first half, is signaling there’s a market for premium rechargeable autos. BMW, Volkswagen AG’s Porsche and General Motors Co.’s Cadillac are all readying plug- in premium cars that could pull sales from Tesla. And Honda Motor Co.’s Acura NSX will be a made-in-America hybrid.

BMW will show a production version of the plug-in hybrid i8 coupe at the Frankfurt auto show next month that’s to go on sale in the U.S. in early 2014. Pricing, also to be announced next month, will be less than $150,000, Willisch said. Model S starts at about $70,000.

While Model S is propelled solely by lithium-ion battery power, BMW’s carbon fiber and aluminum i8 uses electric power for the front wheels and a three-cylinder gasoline engine for the rear tires. The system delivers a combined 362 horsepower to speed the car from 0 to 62 miles (100 kilometers) per hour in just 4.5 seconds, while delivering an average of 94 miles per gallon, BMW said.

Sneak Peek

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Willisch declined to provide a U.S. sales target for the i8 or the lower-priced i3 electric car that also goes on sale early next year. Reporters got a sneak peek at the i8 on Aug. 15, when cameras and phones weren’t permitted.

Tesla declined to comment specifically about the i8.

“The more automakers who commit to making an electric vehicle that customers want to purchase, the more the segment of the industry can grow and become widely accepted,” Shanna Hendriks, a spokeswoman for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, said yesterday.

Porsche this week is also showing its prototype 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid supercar at Pebble Beach, home to the annual Concours d’Elegance classic car show and auction. Tesla, a company that often defies auto-industry conventions, isn’t participating in any official capacity.

Catching Lightning

“Tesla was able to catch lightning in a bottle — almost literally — in the Model S,” said Jack Nerad, industry analyst and executive editor for Kelley Blue Book. “It came at the right time and the right price, and it has established for itself a ‘cool factor.’ Part of the cool factor is the car itself, but other elements include its all-electric drivetrain, the fact that it comes from an independent auto manufacturer and the fact that the independent manufacturer is not from the auto industry but instead from the Internet and high-tech world.”

The success of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla’s Model S “absolutely” convinces Munich-based BMW there’s a market for premium rechargeable vehicles, Willisch said.

“If you have a compelling offer, people go for it,” he said. “A lot of so-called supercars being built right now are supercars of the past, based on concepts that have been around for years.”

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The i8 differs from Model S in that it is fundamentally a performance-oriented car, said Hendrik Wenders, product manager for the model.

“Model S has its merits, but it is a big sedan,” Wenders said. “It appeals to a different kind of buyer. I do not perceive it as a competitor.”

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