July 29 - Best known for their sporty saloons and gas-guzzling SUV's, Germany's BMW has launched it's first fully electric vehicle the i3. Hayley Platt asks whether the German auto maker's $2.7 billion dollar investment was largely forced upon it by the government's enthusiasm for low-emission transport.
A serious contender or a costly gamble? That's what many in the auto industry are asking about BMW's first electric vehicle. Germany's thirst for gas-guzzling SUV's has left it lagging behind the likes of Nissan and Toyota when it comes to electric cars. Ian Robertson is BMW's Global Head of Sales. SOUNDBITE: Ian Robertson, Global Head of Sales & Marketing, BMW saying (English): "We're not entering this market to be a niche player. This is a strategic direction for us, this is something that we've looked at very very holistically and something I think the company will benefit from for many many years to come." The German government wants to have 1 million electric cars on its roads by the end of the decade. Tougher emission rules in the EU and California are also a powerful incentive, says industry expert John McIlroy. SOUNDBITE: John McIlroy, editor What Car, saying (English): "BMW's rationale behind the i project is that this is a business case. They see that mega cities like London, Tokyo and Beijing, we're going to see legislation make it harder and harder for car manufacturers in general to sell cars into those regions." But BMW's move comes as others are scaling back. The cost of electric vehicles and fears about their driving range are a particular concern. SOUNDBITE: John McIlroy, Editor-in-Chief, What Car, saying (English): "It might be a game changer it might not. The key question as is always the case, is how big the electric vehicle market is. It might make a big splash it might still be a small pond they're making it in is the problem." BMW has spent an estimated $2.7 billion on the new range And this first four-seater should be with dealers in November It's made of carbon-fibre with an aluminium chassis and BMW hopes it will win the technology race with German rivals Audi and Daimler's Mercedes Benz. But electric vehicles remain a niche market - trade-marking the series up to i9 may be seen as optimistic.