The i3’s range is a claimed 155 km (about the same as a Leaf). BMW is hedging its bets here by offering a range-extender option, surely aimed at the hesitant North American market.

BMW i8 concept
BMW i8 concept
BMW i3 concept
BMW i3 concept
i8 (top two photos) and i3 concepts (bottom photos). Click image to enlarge

Check this box and you get a very small (size to be determined) internal combustion engine that snuggles in beside the rear-mounted electric drive motor. It acts purely as a generator to keep the battery charged (similar to the Chevy Volt), and while it doesn’t impinge on cargo space, the BMW engineers made it clear this is an element that compromises the purity of the concept—it adds weight, adversely affects weight distribution and burns fossil fuels.

The i3’s electric traction motor puts out 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, giving it a top speed of 150 km/h. BMW’s holistic approach to environmentally friendly materials and processing is demonstrated inside, where the dash and door panel feature natural fibres, the leather is vegetable-tanned using olive leaf extract, and the wood veneer is open-pore eucalyptus that needs no mechanical processing.

Speaking with Helmut Stadler, BMW Canada’s i Project Manager, he’s cautiously optimistic about the program. “We have a more promising starting point here than in the US.” he says, citing our growing interest in EVs, highlighted by Montreal’s Electric Mobility Canada (EMC) conference that in a few years has gone from a handful of participants to 560 delegates.

“We have to overcome our fear—communicate what the car can do and what you can do with it.” Europeans seem to “get” electric cars more so than North Americans—range anxiety is not a major issue there. It helps that most big cities have a comprehensive charging infrastructure.

Bookending the i Project is the i8, arriving first as a 2+2 coupe. This CFRP spectacle will be toned down a bit for production (it keeps its cool scissor doors though), but the mechanicals look promising. Unlike the i3, the i8 is built as a hybrid. A small turbocharged three-cylinder 220 hp/221 lb-ft gas engine powers the rear wheels while a 170-hp electric motor juices the front end. Weighing in at 1,480 kilograms, BMW says the i8’s projected fuel consumption is 2.7 L/100 km. And yes, this halo greenie is supposed to go as good as it looks. Claims include a zero to 100 km/h dash in under five seconds, a 32-km EV range and a top speed of 250 km/h. Battery charge time on a Level 2 charger is about an hour and a half.

While it’s all too easy for cynics and pragmatists to view these cars as eco-trinkets for solvent early adopters (which at this stage of the game they surely will be) you have to give kudos to BMW for looking at a very big picture with the i project.

The plant in Moses Lake, Washington, which produces the carbon fibre for the i cars operates fully on hydro-electric power, and the assembly facility in Leipzig uses only 100 percent renewable energy. The cars utilize a high component of recycled and renewable materials, and being constructed almost entirely of carbon-fibre, corrosion is not an issue so the vehicles should enjoy a long life span.

Which brings us to pricing. You know the i3 will cost more than your run-of-the-mill (can we say that?) Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi iMiEV, or Ford Focus EV, but by how much? All they can say is the i3 will be less than the 5 Series, which currently starts at $54,500. And what about the über-sexy i8 Coupe? Stadler tells me, “It won’t be our most expensive car, and it won’t be our cheapest.”

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