Column: Is The BMW i3 “Too European” For the US Market?

BMW i | April 10th, 2014 by 15
bmw-i3-dc-fast-charger-03

It’s been called edgy, futuristic, polarizing, ground breaking and even flat out hideous. It has funky lines, rear coach (suicide) doors that can’t be opened …

It’s been called edgy, futuristic, polarizing, ground breaking and even flat out hideous. It has funky lines, rear coach (suicide) doors that can’t be opened unless the front doors are and rear windows that are permanently closed. The nose has a pronounced “underbite” that any respectful orthodontist would love to correct and the tires are so skinny they look like they should be on something coming out of BMW Motorrad, and certainly not on a proper BMW automobile.

The internet is full of extremely harsh criticism of the i3′s exterior styling. However most seem to praise the interior for it’s modern, stylish and open feel, especially for such a small car. I don’t think I’ve read a single article where the author didn’t at least approve of the interior design, while most gave it very high marks. The term “Scandinavian loft” has been used frequently to describe the modern, open feeling the i3′s interior offers.

Column: Is The BMW i3 Too European For the US Market?

But then there’s the unconventional exterior styling that many people just can’t get past. I have to admit, I didn’t love it when I first saw it, but I never actually hated it. Then I felt a lot better once I saw it in person and got to drive it. The styling has definitely grown on me and I genuinely like how it looks now.  Others don’t fell the same way. In fact, the i3′s unique appearance has been discussed ad nauseum since its introduction. Here are a few examples:

On this message board, one person asked the question: Did they try to make it ugly?

Brad Berman of plugincars.com: Did BMW screw up the visual design of i3 electric car?

Perhaps one of the most offensive stories was from The Slate when they wrote: BMW i3 review: Electric car is a cheap, ugly Tesla Model S with an SUV on the side

Column: Is The BMW i3 Too European For the US Market?

Then I started thinking about all the criticism and began to wonder if it is mostly driven by American opinions. BMW has consistently maintained the i3 is a “city car”. Unlike Europe, city cars just haven’t been accepted here yet. The European roads are full of small cars that would certainly appear “unconventional” to American motorists. Take smart for instance. There are smart cars everywhere you look in Europe, yet smart can barely sell a few hundred cars a month in the entire US. Also, many of the cars there look a bit more modern than what you typically find on American roads. Are Europeans just more accepting of new ideas and styling that pushes the limits of acceptability? Is form following function an easier sell to the European car buyer than it is to their American counterpart?

Column: Is The BMW i3 Too European For the US Market?

John Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports and one of the industries most respected journalists covering the green car and alternative powertrain scene recently wrote this:

“I’d agree that the BMW i3 is the best city car yet developed. Which is fine for Europe. The problem is that in North America, virtually no one has ever said, “Honey, we need to go buy a city car!”

Column: Is The BMW i3 Too European For the US Market?

This does make sense but I’d argue that while it is a “city car”, it is just as well served for the outlying suburbs of the big cities, making it a great commuter car for the daily grind, while still offering the spirited driving experience many want for the weekend joy ride. Which leads to the next questionable decision BMW made which is likely part of the reason so many people have been critical and that’s the range. You can’t go too far on that weekend cruise unless you paid the additional $3,850 and got the range extender. The EPA range rating hasn’t been announced yet but it’s widely expected that the i3′s electric range will be officially pegged at about 80 to 85 miles per charge. America’s a big country and with gasoline relatively cheap compared to the average price in Europe it’s common to drive hundreds of miles at a clip here. I believe if BMW would have increased the i3′s range a bit, so the EPA range rating was 100 or more miles, they would have eliminated a lot of the negativity surrounding the car so far. Of course the Europeans would like more range also (who doesn’t?). It just seems less important there since they are likely to drive less than we do in the US and some would argue that European customers look at a car purchase more pragmatically in many cases.

Column: Is The BMW i3 Too European For the US Market?

Will the “unique” styling and short range conspire to limit the i3′s success in the US market? Only time will tell. There will certainly be an initial surge of orders but once they are filled will the i3 continue to attract eco-conscious buyers to the brand. According to BMW, i3 ordering has been robust and they have over 11,000 orders in the bank worldwide. US ordering has just recently begun and the first deliveries are due here in only a few weeks but BMW hasn’t said how many of the 11,000 orders have come from American customers.  BMW must be happy with i3 sales so far though because they recently ordered two more Engle molding machines that make i3 body shell components. They are only about six months into production so if they need to buy more production machinery already, that is likely a good sign.

What do you think? Do you like the i3′s appearance? Do you hate it or are you in the middle? Will it be more accepted by European customers or will it have universal appeal? Let me know in the comments below.

The article first appeared on bmwi3blogspot

  • Albertico

    The i3 in my opinion would look better if the black gloss portion was the same color as the side of the car. The car in design itself is not so far fetched as it is the use of 3 different color options on the body.

    TopSpeed did a rendering of a BMW i3 that I believe American buyers would absolutely love

  • Claudio

    I don’t know about the EPA range of 80-85 but all my calculations based on numbers posted on many reviews by european owners point to about 62-65 for 2/3 hwy and 1/3 city driving. I hope these calculations are wrong!

    • Tommolog

      Good point Claudio, but I can explain that. So far, they have been driving in the colder months which will certainly dig into the range. I drive a BMW ActiveE now, which has a 94 mile EPA range rating, but during the winter, I can only get 65-70 miles per charge.
      I have even seen current i3 drivers remark that their range is “improving” I don’t think all of them realize that is specifically because the temperature where they are is rising!

      • CDspeed

        Tom, did you see the i wallbox that was in the X5 eDrive photos.

        • Tommolog

          Yes I have seen it. There are actually two versions. One is called Wallbox Pure and one is called Wallbox Pro. Wallbox Pro has a digital touch screen and stores a lot of cool data about your charging history. Here is a picture I took of a Wallbox Pro

      • i3 fan

        And to add to your cold weather range decrease explanation.. another would be the road type. flip the road type from 2/3 hwy and 1/3 city to 2/3 city and 1/3 hwy and that 62-65 would probably increase as well. Slower speed = less energy consumption. Besides, isn’t this a “city car” anyway? ;)
        This is one reason why hybrids do better in US EPA tests but worse in real life and diesels do worse in EPA tests but better in real life. The EPA test I think is biased to city driving. Also, I think their highway speed is 55 mph.

        Now I’m actually wondering if the EPA will actually rate the i3 higher than expected.

      • Claudio

        Tom, did you notice anything drastic in battery degeneration over your lease period? I don’t expect the battery to hold as much charge after 3 years as day one, but still that is another big concern for me. Thanks!

        • Tommolog

          I have observed about 2-3% annual capacity loss, but I do drive more than the average person and miles is more important than age.

  • CDspeed

    I always lean toward sophisticated European design so I think the i3 looks great. But I do wish the front end was longer so the bumper could have been scaled down, and it had four real doors. The styling is great but their next i car should have a more conventional lay out. Look at the Model S, they didn’t cut the nose down because they didn’t have much to put in it, they kept it conventional and put in an extra trunk. One thing that does bother me is the trunk floor, it’s too high, thanks to the REx generator they had to make the electric motor setup tall and skinny. The mistake they made with the trunk I’d expect to happen to a conversion like the Ford Focus Electric. I like the looks, and for their first electric car it’s cool, so it works for the moment but they can’t continue to make little Eco boxes, consumers will get tired of it.

  • eperigny

    I don’t think it’s a pretty car but I bought one anyway. I think it will look old quickly at it looks too different. However, this car perfectly makes sense for me as I work close to home and live about 15 miles from the city. I had an M3 that was very thirsty and I expect to have as much fun with this car except it will be a different kind of fun. The car is highly technological, has a 0-30mph acceleration that will beat my M3 and I will never buy have to stop by a gas station ever again.

  • pmutah

    i love the car its beautiful to me the only electric car that looks better is the tesla model s with that said are you willing to pay 70000 dollars more for a car that looks a little better and is half as efficient im not and bet most of you wont ether so if the one negative is the looks get over it. what about the 100 other things it does better than your current car . you get a car that’s made out of carbon fiber and aluminum and weighs less than 3000 that does not need much service and you can fill up at your house and it will out perform most sports cars in driving conditions under 40 mph all for around 45000 bucks. if you had the opportunity to drive a car like the i3 for one month i promise you would not want to go back to your current car.

  • Chuck Vossler

    Drove an i3, it’s way faster than I imagined w/ instant torque. Really enjoyed the experience. Agree the styling may be polarizing but I personally love it especially in Solar Orange. With the Rex Version and Terra Wold package I built on BMWUSA’s website the price is, gulp, $49,375.

  • Freepat 75014

    I understand i3 allowed BMW to develop and master some raw EV technologies that should be use in other real BMW cars tomorrow. So may be worth having created it, at least for that. But it’s ugly and good for nothing in Europe too. Battery is too small. Range Extender is great to have but too limited in range too, and car form factor at the end is only set for local commutes of # empty cars, like the Leaf, just without the range anxiety,… as long as you limit yourself to local commutes. It can’t replace the Full-purpose car of the famillies that can have just one (You can’t go on vacations with this car). And as a local commute car it’s priced 3X higher than the rather popular small ICE cars designed to do just that in Europe, while these car have very small millage, so recovery to expect on Petrol savings will never allow to justify buying it…
    I don’t see who could buy that car in Europe, outside a few former Mini green ladies, if there are any…

    I have more hope on X5 eDrive concepts than any of these iGadgets (for the press) presented so far. Just they need to TRIPLE its far too small battery and start moving to an All Electric drive train so they can make huge savings on the mechanical parts, that will free room for more expensive Batteries, still fitting in my €60K budget (No need for big engines, big gear-boxes, big central transmissions, when you move to Tesla like all-Electric approach, with one electric engine per wheel or per axis, only using the ICE range extender as an electrical generator, never directly tracting the car).

  • zbiejczuk

    I didn’t really like the i3 when I first saw it – though I was a fan of the technology behind it. But honestly, I’ve changed my mind 1) when I got to see it (for some reason it rarely looks good on the photos) 2) when I got to drive one – that was a very intensive and interesting experience. I believe I could get to love it after a short while. For me this car makes sense if I get to 250 km range – which should be possible with the extender if I have the number right. Still, I’m hesitant to pay the price ;)

  • http://onaplioa.com.vn/ onapthanh

    I work close to home and live about 15 miles from the city. I had an M3
    that was very thirsty and I expect to have as much fun with this car
    except On ap Standa | standa | On ap Lioa

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