BMW to celebrate with i cars

words - Bruce Newton
i9 and i5 both expected to be stars of centenary in 2016
BMW's i division will not confirm any expansions to its range until the company's centenary in 2016 when an i9 plug-in hybrid supercar and i5 EV wagon are tipped for reveal.

Until then, BMW's new alternate energy vehicle division will focus on production of the i3 EV and the i8 hybrid (pictured) and gauging whether strong 'early adopter' demand translates into sizeable ongoing sales.

Senior BMW spokesman Kai Lichte told motoring.com.au at this week's 2 Series Active Tourer launch in Austria that i would be an integral part of the birthday celebrations.

But asked about the prospects for the i9, which would swap the i8 coupe's triple-cylinder petrol engine for a new-generation 3.0-litre six-cylinder to deliver supercar performance and be a 21st century take on the legendary M1, Lichte was cryptic.

"In two years' time maybe we will have some surprises for our anniversary.

"There are a lot of discussions and a lot of ideas for this special occasion."

And quizzed about the prospects for the addition of a more mainstream model such as the i5, he added: "Again the 100th anniversary might be a good chance for this."

However, he refused to specifically confirm the existence of the i9 and i5, both of which have been listed in a future model roll-out for BMW published in the last few days in the authoritative German magazine Auto Motor und Sport.

While it could be announced in 2016, the i5 is not expected to make it into production until 2017. Development of the car, which in renderings looks like an extended i3, is understood to be well underway.

The i3 and i8 are built on the same production line at a new plant in Leipzig, Germany and the investment and time required to lift its capacity to accommodate a new model also plays a role in i's expansion timing.

"When we decide on more i models then we would need more production capacity and ... the next two years I think we have limited to the current production line," Lichte said.

He did emphasise eventual expansion of the i range was a definite.

"We always say there are a lot of numbers between 3 and 8. i3 and i8 is not the end of the i story.

"But it [expansion] will not happen soon," he added. "Because we have just started BMW i models and now we are just starting the regular production process and made a lot of experiences.

"Now I think we are to settle and see also how the customers react. First reactions are really positive, but we have to see what happens after one or two years and then there will be decision for the next [i model]."

The global waiting list on the i8, which reaches Australia in March priced at $299,000, now stretches more than six months out into early next year.

The waiting list for the i3, which goes on-sale in Australia from November priced at $63,900 for the EV and $69,900 for the range extender, now stretches out to the end of 2014. About 100 i3s are being built per day.

Lichte revealed much of early i3 production had been devoted to internal fleet and demonstrator, but the share of private buyers was now rapidly growing.

"There are a lot of private customers especially now the so called early adopters who want the latest technology and want to show the case for the environment," he said.

He revealed the majority of buyers were opting for the pure EV rather than the range extender.

"One reason is price," he explained. "The other reason is people who opt right now at the beginning for a car like the i3 they want to drive it purely electrically.

"They understand the concept of the car, it is a city car and they think about how they want to use it. They commute and they know the distance they travel every day. Most of the i3 customers have another car as well, so they don't see the need to have an electric car with a range extender."

Published : Friday, 1 August 2014
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