CURRENT AND FUTURE
The electric i3 sells more and more each year
BMW’s i3 electric vehicle isn’t popular in Australia. Fewer than 500 have been sold here since it went on sale in 2014. Despite this, the innovative little battery-powered fourseater seems headed for cult classic status.
It will stay in production well into the next decade, promises Klaus Froelich, BMW’s development chief, in an interview at the recent Paris motor show.
Global sales of the i3 have grown every year since it was introduced in 2013.
Cars produced for a long time, such as the original Beetle and Mini, often end up becoming timeless classics. More recently, Land Rover’s Defender was built from 1983 to 2016 without its exterior design being changed.
“Every year we have a new sales record in the i3,” Froelich says.
“Because the (EV) segment is growing, the i3 is growing with the segment. So last year we had the highest sales volumes, this year we will have the highest sales volumes; with a four, fiveyear-old car.”
In its first full year on sale, 2014, about 16,000 examples of the i3 were bought globally. Last year, BMW sold more than 31,000 around the world.
The i3 will remain in production as long as the customer demand is growing, says Froelich. “Of course I have to update things but this car will have the highest sales figures beyond 2020.”
The updates to the i3 are regular. The company recently announced an improved battery pack for the EV. It will go on sale in Australia next year.
Exactly the same size as the original 22kWh pack in the original i3, the new one can store 42kWh of electrical energy, doubling the EV’s driving range to more than 200km in the real world.
The i3 is manufactured in a special section of BMW’s Leipzig factory, adjacent to lines where the small 1 Series and 2 Series are built.
It has an aluminium ladder chassis boxing its underfloor battery pack and plastic-panelled carbon-fibre body structure, so building the rear-drive i3 isn’t like building a steel-bodied car. As it requires a different assembly line, keeping the i3 in production doesn’t block any new model planned by BMW, Froelich says.
But what will guarantee the i3’s future status is the fact that BMW will not build another car like it. Its innovative construction, especially the carbon-fibre structure, won’t be used for any future affordable EV.
“We learned a lot on the i3, different technologies,” the development boss says. “But to make a shell out of carbon-fibre in the citycar segment, this is not financially viable.”
BMW has a bunch more EVs in the pipeline. The iX3, an SUV that’s also an EV, is due in 2020. A year later the company will launch the i4, a four-door coupe EV, and its top-tech EV, currently known only as the iNext.
And the enduring i3 will be there to keep them company in showrooms ...