BMW i focuses on eco-luxury to ready i3 for sale

BMW updates the i3 Concept interior and shows off its new electric products in its first BMW i-branded store in London.

The BMW i3 Concept.
The BMW i3 Concept. BMW

How does a car manufacturer whose motto is "the ultimate driving machine" sell a front-wheel-drive car that takes 8 seconds to hit 60 mph and tops out at 93 mph? By shifting attention from under the hood to inside the cabin, focusing on the urban-electric lifestyle.

BMW opened its first dedicated BMW i Store in London this week. The BMW i3 isn't scheduled to enter production until 2013, but the company is taking advantage of the Summer Olympics to boost the new vehicle line's presence. The store serves as a showroom for its upcoming line of electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

The main draw of the BMWi showroom is the chance to kick the tires of the updated i3 Concept. Unveiled last year, the revamped electric car received a new interior kitted out with eco-friendly materials and styling. Sustainably harvested eucalyptus wood is used for the instrument panel, high-quality wool adorns the cabin, and the upholstery leather was tanned with natural agents instead of chemicals. The materials give the four-seater a lounge-like feel, according to a BMW press release.

What makes this i3 Concept unique isn't just the switch from plastic to natural materials. Missing is the protruding center console, gearbox, and tunnel that separates the driver's cockpit from the passenger. Reverting to the old style bench seats will make it easier for the driver to slide over and exit from the passenger side if needed, which is common in dense urban areas with tight parking quarters.

The interior of the updated i3 Concept.
The interior of the updated i3 Concept. BMW

Electronics are also a main focus inside the i3 cabin. Three displays, including an 8.8-inch display on the dash and 6.5-inch instrument cluster display, relay vehicle information to the driver with full graphics. That's a lot of LCD coming from a company that once thought cupholders were distracting in vehicles.

The i3's power output remains unchanged at 170 horsepower. However, BMW released photos and information on its high-speed i Wallbox, which can recharge the i3's battery up to 80 percent in just an hour.

In addition to the i3, the BMW i store will also show off the i Pedelec Concept (Pedal Electric Cycle), a two-wheeled counterpart to the i3. The compact, foldable e-bike helps riders peddle up to 16 mph and has an range of 16-25 miles. Conveniently, two Pedelecs can be stored in the cargo area of an i3 with the seats folded flat, and they can also be charged from inside the car. Using a standard electric socket, the bikes take up to 4 hours to recharge an empty battery, or only 1.5 hours using a fast charger, according to BMW. Despite the Pedelec's compact portable nature, don't think you'll be carrying it around with you everywhere -- it weighs more than 44 pounds.

These two products are wrapped up in what BMW calls its 360-degree Electric Mobility package. This package includes such services as home and public charging, and smartphone apps for travel planning. For single-car households, BMW will provide access to its DriveNow shared vehicle network.

BMW seems to be following Tesla's lead by opening retail shops in non-traditional locations. A different kind of car needs a different kind of sales channel, and customers may need a little more hand-holding to make the electric switch. The freestanding BMW i-branded stores should help customers shift their focus from the performance they've come to expect from BMW vehicles and instead marvel at a different kind of engineering that will affect not just their commute, but electrify their lives.

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