It's not without reason that the first purpose-built electric vehicle by Audi, crucial for lowering fleet carbon dioxide emissions, is the e-tron full-size crossover, which starts in Germany at €80,000 ($93,800). The addition of an expensive electric powertrain, which is not expected to be cost competitive with combustion engines until 2025, would be less noticeable in that price segment than in a segment below.
Executives say SUVs and crossovers are also the body style most in demand worldwide, so they offer greater pricing power over a sedan, hatchback or wagon. In China, the world's largest market for EVs and conventionally fueled vehicles, the market share of SUVs eclipsed that of sedans last year, according to Volkswagen.
The iNEXT will not only be electric, it is expected to be the first BMW to feature autonomous driving technology developed jointly in a consortium with key suppliers such as Mobileye, Intel, Continental and Magna.
For now, BMW will have to remain content trying to sell as many i3 electric city cars as it can to help reduce its CO2 fleet emissions ahead of stringent European Union targets that take effect in 2020.
Perhaps one day the i3 will find a following, but for now the car remains a slow seller because of its singular focus on sustainability. Tesla has proved that EV buyers may be environmentally conscious but they still want to drive a sexy car, which the i3 is not. BMW has started offering an "s" performance version of the i3, but the problem has always been the basic proportions of the boxy car, not its performance.
The EV, which also comes with an optional range-extending combustion engine, was costly for the company to develop. It required its own dedicated sandwich-style architecture and a plastic body reinforced with carbon fiber.
Despite the heavy costs to produce the vehicle, BMW made headlines this month when it emerged that dealers were offering the car in the U.S. at a monthly lease rate of just $54.
BMW has since said it would limit the use of carbon fiber, which is typically found only in exotic sports cars, to protect profits and it will sell its stake in a joint venture that makes the material.
The iX3 will also be the first in a series of cars from the i subbrand to use a new flexible architecture that can be used for combustion- and battery-powered vehicles alike, abandoning the approach taken with the i3.