NEW YORK -- Don't expect BMW to offer one of those cut-rate lease deals on the i3 electric vehicle that goes on sale in the United States next spring -- the kind of thing volume makers with EVs have resorted to.
Instead, the tall, four-seat compact -- the first car in BMW's i subbrand -- will be marketed as a showpiece of innovation, said Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America.
In the United States, Willisch said, BMWs are still perceived as fuel-hungry performance cars, even if fuel consumption has been greatly improved.
"The i3 will tilt our image more toward innovation and sustainability," he said, "not only for the product, but for production and sustainability -- that we dare to change from sheet metal to carbon fiber on a big scale."
EVs have been slow to catch on with U.S. consumers, but Willisch predicted that the i3 "will be in high demand and the supply will be somewhat limited."
"We will sell every car we get," he said.
The "Born Electric" marketing tag line underscores that the i3 was designed as an electric vehicle and does not share an architecture or components with other BMW vehicles, company executives said at the car's simultaneous unveiling in New York, London and Beijing last week.
The i3 has a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic passenger cell and an interior of "high quality renewable sources and recycled material." It weighs 2,700 pounds, compared with 3,285 pounds for a 1-series coupe.
The United States is expected to be the biggest market for the i3, which goes on sale in April and will be available only through BMW franchises. In Europe BMW will sell the car on the Internet and in special boutiques.
The i8 hybrid supercar will go on sale in the United States a few weeks after the i3, Willisch said. There may be more i models. BMW says it has trademarked i1 through i9.
The i3 will be priced at $42,275, including shipping, before a $7,500 federal tax credit or any state incentives.
Suggested retail for a version with a range extender, a two-cylinder gasoline engine to recharge the battery, starts at $46,125. BMW says the expected range on battery power is 80 to 100 miles. With a range extender, expected mileage without recharging or refueling roughly doubles that.
A monthly lease rate is not set, but Willisch said BMW won't offer the low-price lease deals that Nissan has run for the Leaf, Chevrolet for the Spark EV and Fiat for the 500e.
"We put a lot of resources into it so we have no plans to sell it cheap," Willisch said.
Fifty of BMW's 338 dealers have decided not to sell the car. Those dealers are either small or in rural areas of the Midwest and South, said Jacob Harb, head of electric vehicles and strategy for BMW of North America.
BMW will let i3 buyers and lessees rent a larger, conventionally powered BMW "for a couple of days, Thanksgiving perhaps, when they need to make longer trips," Willisch said.
BMW is still working out the details of that program -- for example, whether to include it in a lease package or how much more to charge a customer who purchases the car, he said.
"We haven't made up our minds yet if we will work with a rental company and say 'this person is eligible for a BMW,' or if we will do it ourselves," Willisch said. "Think of the logistical challenge behind this. It is no more than a basic idea so far."
The production ramp-up for the i3 will be slower than for a traditional steel-bodied BMW, he said.
BMW executives declined to give expected production and sales volumes for the i3. IHS Automotive forecasts that BMW will sell 3,500 to 3,800 in a peak year in the United States.
"The demand is weak for electric vehicles and there is increased competition," said IHS analyst Peter Nagel. "It is priced against the [Cadillac] ELR. The fit and finish of a BMW may be different than a Cadillac but they are playing in the same space. They are in a tighter space than the Tesla."
The Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid, which shares a platform with the Chevrolet Volt, is expected to go on sale in March.