BMW i8 arrival fast-tracked to 2014

12 November 2012
, CarsGuide

The German brand's electric division goes live towards the middle of next year with the battery-powered i3 runabout and the high-tech i8 two-seater hybrid.

The cars are expected to hit Australia almost simultaneously, still not until 2014 but with the local arrival of the i8 is well ahead of the original target in 2015. "We've already got deposits on half-a-dozen i8s around the country.

There is extremely strong interest in Australia," the spokesman for BMW Australia, Piers Scott, reveals to Carsguide. "It's a real performance car and, given the support for the various BMW M cars here, we've been lucky to get early allocations from the factory."

The early tease on the i-car launch plans comes despite rumours from Europe that BMW was winding-back support for its electric and hybrid plans because of poor sales and no profit for other early arrivals, including the GM Volt, Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMiEV.

 Scott says nothing has changed and BMW was always aiming for a gradual ramp-up with its i-cars after testing the mechanical package for the i3 in the Active-E protype that made a very positive impression on Carsguide in Germany earlier this year.

"There is no delay on the launch. In terms of the ramp-up for production, the tap will be turned on slowly," says Scott. The two cars will be built at Leipzig in Germany and BMW is spending big, not just on their radical new powertrains but also on the carbon fibre technology intended to slash their weigh and improve efficience.

The i3 is confirmed as a fully-electric plug-in car, although Scott says there will be a range-extender model similar to the Volt, while the i8 combines a three-cylinder combustion engine producing 164 kiloWatts with a pair of electric motors. The result is a claimed 0-100km/h sprint in less than five seconds with economy of 2.7 litres/100km.

Scott is not getting into the technical details but says BMW Australia is working on its launch program, including dealer and service support for the cars. "The plan is a simultaneous launch. We should get both cars around the middle of 2014 in Australia," he says. "The i3 appears on the global stage somewhat earlier but, because major markets with mega-cities will get priority, we won't get it for six to eight months.

And that's closer to when the i8 will appear. "For the i3, we'll have fairly low volumes in the early stages. We have no deposits yet, but we're looking at a more innovative process where leasing is concerned. "What we're doing on batteries and things is still being determined, which means we're not in a position to talk transactions with customers just yet.

And the technology? "There are some considerable differences in the cars," Scott says. "The i3 is a pure electric car. We will have the option of a range extender, but that engine purely charges the battery, it does not drive the wheels. It's most likely we will launch with that model. "It's the exact same drivetrain as the Active E, but with a body that's close to 700 kilograms lighter.

 "The i8 is a plug-in hybrid, with a three-cylinder petrol engine and two auxiliary electric motors, one on each axle. To give you a steer, we'd look at the Audi R8 as a potential competitor for this car."