Since its launch two years ago, BMW's odd-looking i3 has become the No. 3-selling electric vehicle in the U.S. But BMW executives and analysts say the car could be a tough sell in coming months.
Low gasoline prices, which hurt EV sales in general, are a major reason. But the i3, as the initial vehicle in BMW's grand plan to become the most sustainable luxury brand in the world, is showing that pioneering in the green space can be tough.
With the i3, BMW pumped billions into development of a car that not only is emissions-free but assembled using wind power, constructed of carbon fiber that is produced in a plant using hydropower, and has an interior made with recycled materials. The i3 is the smallest of BMW's family of sustainable cars, with the $140,000-plus i8 plug-in hybrid sports car at the other end. An autonomous car, iNext, is to launch "early in the next decade," BMW CEO Harald Krueger said last week.
The i series came out of BMW's Mega-city project in the last decade when gasoline prices were high. Today, unusually low gasoline prices have made EVs and compacts less desirable -- and BMW may have already met much of the pent-up demand from early adopters.
BMW offered 24- and 36-month leases on the i3 when U.S. sales began. The company now offers lease deals of $289 a month for 36 months on the base i3. Last month, BMW sold just 248 i3s in the U.S. In 2015, it sold about 900 a month and 11,024 in the full year.
Jose Guerrero, product planning and strategy manager for the i series at BMW of North America, said BMW met its U.S. target of 11,000 i3s last year -- with higher gasoline prices than today's levels -- but it wasn't easy.
"2016 it will be even harder," Guerrero said. "No one is sitting still from a technology standpoint. Look around at other manufacturers."
Part of the problem is the loss of state incentives as EVs lose their buzz factor.
"We knew states like Georgia were taking out incentives. We knew it was going to be a tough year," Guerrero said.