As BMW gears up to launch its i3 electric car and i8 plug-in hybrid, the automaker has revealed its first showroom dedicated exclusively to the "i" electric-powered vehicles. Set to open July 25, the BMW i Park Lane store is located adjacent to traditional Mini and BMW showrooms in London. The i store currently houses concept versions of the i3 and i8.
BMW says it chose to locate the first i store in London because the bustling city is the type of location that is ideal for the i3 electric car. Like many other large cities, London has put restrictions on driving internal-combustion vehicles within the city limits, and both road space and parking spots are at a premium. The showroom is designed not only to sell and support BMW electric cars, but also to educate potential customers about those vehicles.
At the same time, BMW revealed its unique home charging station for the i3 and i8. The futuristic-looking BMW i Wallbox charger is designed to make plugging in one of the i cars very simple. Installation at the owner's home will be handled by local contractors selected at a later date by BMW.
The BMW i3 will be on sale at stores like the one in London from 2013. The city car should have a rear-mounted electric motor, lithium-ion battery, and a body constructed from a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber. BMW expects to sell the i3 for the same price as a 335i sedan (figure about $45,000) to around 100,000 customers annually.
The i8 is a plug-in hybrid sports car that will use a U.K.-built three-cylinder engine to power the rear wheels, and an electric motor/generator to power the front wheels. All told, BMW estimates the i8 will be able to hit 62 mph in 4.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 155 mph -- all while managing admirable economy of 33 to 47 mpg. The i8 is scheduled to go on sale in 2014.
Despite BMW's outward optimism about the i3 and i8, internally "Project i" has come under fire. The automaker was expecting the cars to receive heavy tax breaks from national governments, and had planned on the charging infrastructure for electric cars to be more widespread by now. Without those programs in place, selling the two plug-in vehicles to the public could be a much tougher proposition. The i3 and i8 probably won't be canceled as doing so would cost billions. BMW has, however, killed plans for a future i1 electric city car and an eco-friendly i5 van.