BMW I3 Sales Are Surprisingly Strong

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

This is not your local electricity provider’s Nissan Leaf. It is not your eclectic neighbour’s Chevrolet Volt. It is not your own personal Toyota Prius Plug-In.

The BMW i3 has a base price of $42,300 (destination and handling included) and is driven up to $46,150 with a range-extending 647cc 2-cylinder. To avoid the ghastly base wheels, you’ll move to either a $1700 or $2700 trim lines. BMW calls them Worlds – Mega, Giga, and Tera – although the base Mega clearly isn’t mega at all. It can be optioned like expensive German cars can always be optioned, with $1300 20-inch wheels and $550 metallic paint and a $1000 parking assistant and a $2500 driving assistant. Even on the high-end Tera, heated seats cost $350 extra, Harmon/Kardon audio is $800, and fast charging is $700. Along with BMW’s i charging station for $1080, this all adds up to $57,130.

It’ll be rare then, a car like this. And it was, in its first three months on sale in the United States.

Total May/June/July sales equalled 1057 units, a period in which Toyota reported 5634 U.S. Prius Plug-In sales and Lexus sold 5262 CT hatchbacks.

But then in August the i3 took off, relatively speaking. BMW reported 1025 i3 sales last month, more than the 2-Series and X4 combined, more than the 6-Series and 7-Series combined.

Compared with the 51,075 Accords Honda sold in a record-setting month, that’s a small number. It’s one-fiftieth the number.

Compared with the number of Prius Plug-Ins sold, on the other hand, it’s a strong number, a number that’s 207 units stronger. Mercedes-Benz reported 51 August sales of its B-Class EV.

August was but one month, a month which follows a period in which i3s were hard to access, as there was originally a delay as cars waited for window stickers. But the i3 is turning out to be a surprising global success for BMW, a company which in a manner of speaking, co-brands itself when the nomenclature of its cars begin with a lower-case i.

It’s as if they’re saying, “We are BMW, but we are also something else.” Historically, the BMW part of that equation has been a desirable one for consumers. Apparently, the latter part of the equation is also enticing, as BMW dramatically increased production of the i3, a car for which early demand has been much stronger than BMW’s initial forecasts.

Early demand sounds like the key phrase. There is a belief that the most avid statement-making green cars have a shelf life, as evidenced by the Chevrolet Volt’s steady decline. GM averaged 2080 monthly Volt sales between September 2012 and August of last year (when Volt volume peaked at 3351 units) and just 1771 per month since then. On the other hand, the Nissan Leaf, which has been on sale for nearly four full years, has topped 3000 monthly sales in three of the last four months, having reported record sales in May and then again in August.

The i3, remember, isn’t a Volt. It’s not a Leaf. It’s not a 3-Series ActiveHybrid. It’s something entirely different, and not just because of its lofty sticker price. Maybe the olive leaf-tanned leather, eucalyptus wood, and rear-hinged rear doors prematurely gave that away.

Timothy Cain
Timothy Cain

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  • Kyree Kyree on Sep 15, 2014

    I quite like the i3 and, in the right circumstances, would actually buy it. If BMW has found success with this model, I'm happy. And hey, it's still RWD. That has to count for something...right?

  • CRacK hEaD aLLeY CRacK hEaD aLLeY on Sep 15, 2014

    This car makes a lot of sense for urban use, will guarantee BMW's existence into the future as a premium brand and will sell very well in CA, OR, WA, NY etc. It will also spur a bunch of sub-genres and copy-cats.

    • Mcs Mcs on Sep 15, 2014

      You can bet the CFRP/aluminum technology will make it's way to the rest of the line. The i8 and i3 are test-beds for their future. I'd like to see a CFRP Z5 with a reconfigured version of the i8 drive-train. The i8 power in a lighter 2 seat roadster package.

  • 285exp I have been assured that EVs don’t require maintenance, so this seems pointless.
  • Slavuta "The fuel-economy numbers are solid, especially the 32 mpg on the highway"My v6 Highlander did 31 over 10 hour highway trip
  • Aja8888 As I type this, my 4 months old Equinox's Onstar module that controls the phone is broken. Yep, 4 months (never worked right from day one). Replacement will be a REFURBISHED unit since no new ones can be obtained (from China?). I really don't miss the phone via Bluetooth. And I have a great Garmin that I have used for years for trips which has free lifetime maps and traffic.
  • Bd2 There's a reason why talented American execs have been leaving Stellantis in droves.Tavares seems intent in following "Le Cost Cutter" Ghosn into driving his company into the dirt, whilst "justifying" his ever expanding compensation.
  • Bd2 Too bad gm didn't make the C8 better looking to begin with...