The base model BMW i3 is a small electric sedan with a stated range of roughly 100 miles. But when the i3 is released in the United States early next year, BMW will become the first plug-in vehicle maker to offer an optional small gasoline engine to extend driving range when the car’s 22-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack runs low on charge.
The optional range-extending capacity will cost $3,850 and give i3 buyers a choice between owning a pure electric vehicle with a range that is slightly better than that of EVs like the Nissan LEAF or Honda Fit EV—or owning a plug-in hybrid with an all-electric range roughly two and a half times longer than that of a Chevy Volt.
The i3 has a starting price of around $42,000, so the range extending option will push the price tag to about $46,000—before state and federal alternative vehicle incentives totaling at least $7,500.
According to a 2012 Columbia University study, 95 percent of daily commute distances in the United States are less than 40 miles each way, meaning that on a practical basis, the range extender isn’t needed very often. But a range-extending feature isn’t so much about satisfying most of a consumer’s transportation needs: it’s about knocking down any reasons for BMW buyers not to buy the i3.
Some EV buyers don’t care whether their EV can handle occasional longer drives—either because they own a second car or because they’re willing to make other arrangements like renting a gas car when needed or catching a flight for longer trips.
For others though, range anxiety is a major concern. What if my spouse needs the other car and I don’t have time to arrange for a rental? What if I unexpectedly need to take an extra trip? These kinds of questions might keep some people who would otherwise be inclined to buy an EV to hold off or opt for a plug-in hybrid.
BMW is betting that the issue will be of enough importance to enough people that a significant portion of buyers will be willing to tack on an additional 10 percent to the price of the i3.
The plug-in market now has pure EVs with ranges in the 70 to 100 mile range that allow their drivers to go gas free. And it has plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt and Prius Plug-in that offer ranges of 38 miles and 11 miles respectively. The optional range-extended i3 will be the first plug-in car that leaves it up to the customer to decide what works best.
Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy ebay Green Driving.