BMW unveiled the i3 coupe concept, another variant of its i electric car subbrand, at the Los Angeles auto show today. The BMW executive in charge of the i subbrand, Ulrich Kranz, spoke with Automobilwoche, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe, before the show about why the i3 is not a niche product and about the use of lightweight, expensive carbon fiber as a construction material.
Why will customers choose expensive electric cars such as the i3?
We are offering something that has not existed to this point: the first electric car in the premium segment. With its driving performance and dynamics, the i3 will generate as much pleasure as a car with a traditional powertrain. It will reach the market at a competitive price in late 2013.
You are selling cars with carbon fiber bodies. This drives up the price.
We are convinced about carbon fiber. It is not just the lightest material around. It is corrosion-free and holds its strength and rigidity over the life of the vehicle and far beyond it. It still offers a great deal of potential. We have customized the material precisely for automobile production with our partner SGL. We don't need to turn to the carbon developed for the aerospace industry. That puts us on a lower level on the cost side.
The hype over EVs has subsided. Will it be more difficult to attract EV buyers next year?
In the world's megacities, zero-emission vehicles are in demand. There is also a demand for a holistic, sustainable approach that extends across materials, production, service life and recycling. We are also pursuing convenient charging at home and on the road.
Do you have reference values for comparisons with a conventional car?
At the project launch, we resolved to cut the overall CO2 footprint in half compared to a BMW 1-series diesel. Today, we can say that when the customer buys an i3 and then charges it up with green electricity over its entire lifecycle, the footprint will be cut in half. At 50 percent, we still have not reached an end to the possibilities. But we have reached our objective for the first stage.
What are metropolitan customers demanding besides sustainability?
We have to give them more than just a vehicle. We offer the possibility of networking the car with the infrastructure immediately. This already works very well in Tokyo because the city has a tremendous infrastructure and a good public transportation network. Drivers expect to network immediately with their car and the environment using a smartphone. It is also important for them to find independent charging stations for the i3. If they run into a traffic jam, they can work in their vehicles. The interior is appropriately configured for this. In the concept car, you also see a bench seat. The entire interior has a home-like character.