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BMW to unveil i-cars next month

Lid lifted: The i3 city-EV and i8 hybrid supercar will be unveiled in Germany next month.

BMW i3 and i8 eco-cars to emerge in late July ahead of their Frankfurt debuts

17 Jun 2011

BMW’S first two electric vehicles will be unveiled in final production form in Germany late next month, just weeks after the concept on which the ground-breaking i8 plug-in supercar will be based makes its Australian debut.

BMW has told GoAuto the all-electric i3 city-car and plug-in hybrid i8 super-coupe will be revealed to media in Germany just weeks before the Frankfurt motor show on September 13, making the first two models from the new BMW-i sub-brand likely to debut globally at the largest event on the automotive industry calendar.

“We will get our first look at production versions of the i3 and i8,” said BMW Group Australia head of corporate communications Piers Scott.

“I have not seen the official line-up for our stand at Frankfurt, but I can tell you that the press conference is scheduled for the very last days of July, so you would have to assume that the Frankfurt show would be the logical next step for those cars,” he said.

“Members of the board and chief of design Adrian Van Hooydonk will give a talk on the future of the BMW i sub-brand and what that means in terms of design and drivetrain technology for the coming years.”

BMW is keen to put the i-car brand on the agenda for Australia and, as we've reported, the i8-previewing Vision EfficientDynamics concept will be the Bavarian brand's sole vehicle on display at the Australian International Motor Show in Melbourne from July 1.

The i8 will follow the i3 into production in Germany in 2013, and although neither model is yet to be formally signed off for Australia, both models should go on sale here within three years.

14 center imageLeft: BMW Group Australia managing director Phil Horton. Below: BMW Vision EfficientDynamics.

“They are on our agenda," said BMW Group Australia product and market planning manager Toni Andreevski.

"We’d like to offer those models here and we think it makes sense to offer electric vehicles in Australia.

“We think there would be a niche market for them and it’s our desire to offer both the i3 and the i8, but we still haven’t gone through formal business case approval.”

Mr Andreevski said Australians could expect to have access to both i-cars between three and six months after their European launches.

He said the i3 was due to launch in Europe late in 2013, before a likely Australian release by early 2014.

Mr Scott added: “In the case of the i models, it really is new territory for everyone, including the much larger markets.

“What this involves is a pilot phase to look at not just what the demand is for these kinds of vehicles - targeting in the early stages the major metropolises around the world - but also what changes may need to take place of a retail nature in terms of the selling, the usage and the servicing of these cars.

“The Mini E trials around the world are still being done to assess what people’s daily commutes are, where charging infrastructure would be most usefully placed.

“I think one of the reasons for a delayed rollout around the world would be that markets like Australia could take from those lessons before taking the cars here.”

Last year BMW reportedly trademarked several new model designations, including i1 through i9.

Asked if there were plans for a full line-up of i-cars, Mr Andreevski said: “Whether there will be a full range or some extension of the i range … that is yet to be communicated.

“It may be possible that there will be more i models, but at this stage we are only aware of the i3 and the i8.”

Mr Andreevski confirmed that the eco-friendly i-badged cars would wear the BMW roundel but would be promoted as a distinct model line as with the performance-oriented M cars.

He anticipates that the i3 would be “priced within what people would expect of the BMW brand,” given that it will have a “revolutionary” bespoke aluminium sub-frame and carbon-fibre body.

As GoAuto has reported, BMW’s Melbourne show exhibit will comprise a relatively small 264 square metres dedicated solely to the Vision ED concept – which is claimed to offer the performance of an M3 while returning fuel economy similar to that of the smallest hybrids.

BMW Group Australia managing director Phil Horton said he believed it was important to support the show and that the company had a specific message to put across with the concept car.

“We’re right across the road from BMW Melbourne if people want to see our full range,” he said.

“We wanted to take the concept car and do a proper display with that. Trying to build a stand for the rest of it would begin to get very big and very expensive.”

Mr Horton said that it cost more than $2 million to stage a stand at AIMS and that, in an age of dwindling show attendances, other forms of marketing provided a better return on investment.

“It’s expensive for us to bring the Vision EfficientDynamics car here, but stand space and building the stand are probably the most expensive cost items and then there's the manning of it.”

Mr Horton said the “jury is still a little bit out” onBMW’s future attendance at Australian motor shows, indicating its appearance at next year's AIMS in Sydney is not guaranteed.

This is despite the establishment of a single annual national event that alternates between Sydney and Melbourne, following a show boycott on the basis of cost led by luxury brands including BMW.

“If we decide to back into another show, which we may well do, it will depend on what products we’ve got to show and tell and the lifecycle of the products.”

Mr Scott said motor shows were an opportunity to “develop the brand and tell a story” rather than to simply showcase the existing model line-up.

“At the end of the day you can see our full range of products at any given dealership and better than a motor show you can actually drive them,” he said.

“This is the year that we unveiled the BMW-i sub-brand and provided a lot more information on what sustainable mobility looks like for BMW. That’s very much the direction that we’ve gone by developing a stand to tell that story.”

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