BMW: Electric i3 prices to be similar to 3 series

The four-door i3 small car, the first offering of BMW's new EV sub-brand, will reach U.S. showrooms in May.
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NEW ORLEANS (Bloomberg) -- BMW AG expects the new i3 electric vehicle to be priced in the U.S. similarly to a 3-series compact car, the automaker's top executive for the market said.

"It will be in the ballpark of a normally" equipped 3 series, Ludwig Willisch, head of BMW North America, said during a presentation at J.D. Power's International Automotive Roundtable in New Orleans, which is being held in advance of the annual National Automobile Dealers Association convention.

The four-door i3 small car, the first offering of BMW's new EV sub-brand, will reach U.S. showrooms in May, the company said.

BMW is spending about $3 billion to develop the i3 and the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar, according to an estimate by the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

"The U.S. will be the biggest BMW i market in the world," Willisch said. "Will we get enough cars in the first year? Probably not. Again, that's a nice problem to have."

BMW aims to sell a "couple thousand" i3s in the first year in U.S., Willisch said.

The i3 will have an electric-only range of 80 miles (129 kilometers) to 100 miles and a total capability of about double that if outfitted with an optional gas-burning range extender, he said.

Though the i3 suggested starting price will be similar to a typical 3-Series, that doesn't include any government tax breaks, Willisch said in an interview after his presentation.

"It will be an attractive lease offer," he said on stage. The 3 Series sedan has a sticker price that ranges from $33,675 to $49,900, according to Edmunds.com.

Nicer dealerships

The new electric vehicles arrive in U.S. showrooms as BMW pushes to upgrade its stores.

During the next five years, U.S. dealers will invest more than $2.5 billion in their outlets, expanding showroom capacity by 40 percent, Willisch said.

He showed video of a model showroom in Germany that had light colors, open floor spaces, an emphasis on BMW's new electric vehicles and a look similar to an Apple Inc. store.

The changes are aimed at helping the brand appeal to younger customers and to help introduce the vehicles' advance technologies, he said.

"It really is more about what the youngsters expect as the general sales environment," Willisch told reporters after his presentation.

Willisch said he's lobbying the company to create a SUV larger than an X5 aimed at U.S. customer tastes and likely built in the United States.

As for a possible timeline, he said, "Not in the near future."

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