BMW’s new i3 and i8 line of plug-in hybrid vehicles are made of equal parts performance and innovation. Besides the carbon fiber chassis and 22 kwh lithium ion batteries, the automaker will perform an automotive first and sell the two new models globally over the internet.
The vehicles, and their unique sales strategy, debuted as production-ready prototypes at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, instantly setting off speculation about the wisdom of selling cars online. Such a move will undoubtedly reduce overhead costs for BMW by obviating the need for dealerships, but with prices in the $50,000-$100,000 range, one has to wonder who would commit to such a purchase without so much as a test drive.
Both vehicles will come on chassis composed of carbon fiber. The i8 will be capable of reaching 62 mph in 4.8 seconds, marginally faster than Tesla Motors’ Model S, which is due out at the same time. Two engines combine to put out 278 hp, driving the lightweight vehicle to an all-electric top speed of 160 mph. The i8’s all-electric driving range is 31 miles, thanks in part to its regenerative breaking and a drag coefficient of 0.22.
The i3 shares the same carbon fiber and lithium ion technology of the of i8, but the i3 will be assembled in the US at Moses Lake, Washington. That location was chosen because of its proximity to hydroelectric power, in a bid to negate the hefty CO2 emissions created when producing carbon fiber. Unveiled at the same Frankfurt Motor Show as its sister the i8, the i3 is slated to begin full production in 2013.
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