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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

BMW to offer EV customers at-home fast-charging systems + perks

BMW will offer extra services to attract drivers to its "i" electric-car lineup, including occasional use of fuel-powered models.

BMW also will install optional at-home fast-charging systems for the i3 city car coming out at the end of 2013, Marcus Krieg, a sales and marketing manager, said at a presentation in Leipzig, Germany.

Onboard navigation software will be programmed to detect the nearest public charging station during trips, and i3 owners will be able to borrow a fuel-powered car from their dealer for weekend or vacation travel requiring a longer range.

Instant money-maker

BMW is targeting early earnings from its electric car lineup by offsetting expensive new materials with a sales setup intended to limit distribution costs.

"The BMW group is charting new territory," Harald Krueger, the carmaker's head of production, said. "We are confident we will earn money with every BMW i3 we sell from the launch on."

The i3 will be followed by the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car in early 2014. The i3 may be priced at about 40,000 euros ($52,200), according to an estimate by Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Science in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany.

BMW hasn't announced yet how much the car will cost. The i8's price will exceed 100,000 euros, Ian Robertson, the manufacturer's sales chief, has said.

BMW adapted the i3's layout to the all-electric drivetrain, with an aluminum chassis that houses the battery pack and guarantees a low center of gravity, Krueger said.

The passenger compartment will be made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, which weighs half as much as steel and is 30 percent lighter than aluminum, to counter the battery weight.

Limiting spending

To balance costs for the more expensive carbon fiber material, BMW slimmed down the production process by reducing the number of body parts by two-thirds, Krueger said.

The use of thermoplastics instead of steel for the body panels will eliminate the need for a paint shop.

"The i brand will play a pioneering role that drives technology to be rolled out over coming life cycles and to the rest of the BMW brand," Herbert Diess, the carmaker's head of development, said at a supplier event earlier this month in the company's home city of Munich.

To prove that longer excursions are feasible with an electric vehicle, BMW is establishing a chain of quick-charging stations along the 590km route from Munich to Berlin that will take only 30 minutes to power up the battery, sales manager Krieg said.

The company outlined plans last July for a direct online sales platform for the i3 and i8 as well as a roaming sales force with a limited showroom network.

BMW will also add the i3 to its DriveNow car-sharing fleet to enable a wider range of customers to explore the vehicle.

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