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BMW Bets On Plug-in EVs, Reveals Two Sexy Concepts For 2014

The BMW i3 and i8 concept cars are an early peak at models which eventually be sold under BMW’s new electric vehicle sub-brand.

There was a time when any electric or hybrid car had to look unlike any other car on the market, as if car designers were insistent that having a different engine on the inside meant that the outside also had to scream fuel efficiency. Since the Tesla Roadster and, more recently, the Chevy Volt, that perception has started to change: A car can have an electric engine and still look like a car. BMW just took it a step further, with high-end electric sports cars that look like the car of the future.

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BMW may not believe that electric cars are right for most people, but that’s not stopping the automaker from putting a lot of care into its EV designs. Last week, the company unveiled the BMW i3 and i8 concept cars–the first EVs from the company’s new BMW i electric vehicle sub-brand (but not the first EVs from BMW).

The vehicles are nothing if not good-looking. The plug-in hybrid i8 sportscar, which goes from 0 to 62 mph in under five seconds, looks like it drove right out of the year 2050. The vehicle goes up to 134 mph and has a fuel efficiency rating of 94 mpg — this isn’t your mother’s Prius. The downside is, with that level of speed, it can only go 20 miles on pure electric power before switching to gasoline. At 134 mph, that’s just nine minutes of driving time. In comparison, the just-released Fisker Karma sportscar can go 50 miles on electric power.

The i3 (formerly known as the Megacity Vehicle), is a bit more down to earth. About 25% of the plastic used in the car’s body panels and 80% of all aluminum used in the car is recycled. The EV has an all-electric range of 80 miles, gets an 80% battery charge with a high-speed charger in just an hour, and goes from zero to 60 in eight seconds (similar to other mid-range EVs on the market, such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt). BMW’s vehicle concept is pure electric, but it will be sold with an optional range extender (a small gasoline engine).

The i3 and i8 will go on sale in 2013 and 2014, respectively. BMW hasn’t revealed pricing details, but expect the i3 to be significantly more affordable than the i8. Still, BMW’s splashy entrance into the upscale EV market isn’t going to help bring electric car prices down to Earth–no company has yet made the Kia of electric cars, and there are still few options for customers on a tight budget. But it marks what is an encouraging trend of mainstream luxury car makers (like Porsche) getting involved in the market, which up until fairly recently was the domain of smaller companies like Tesla. As more and more rich people purchase flashy electric cars, there will be more desire to emulate them, and we’ll start to see the $15,000 version of the $50,000 electric car.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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