It wasn’t long ago that Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) Chief Executive Elon Musk appraised the BMW (BMAXY.PK) i3 with borderline mockery. After saying simply there was “room to improve,” Musk went on a laughing jag that lasted about twenty seconds. Clearly, Tesla’s CEO wasn’t impressed with BMW’s first foray into electric vehicles. However, the second offering by the German automaker has hybrid supercar bona fides and a press campaign worthy of the big leagues. The i8 could give the Tesla Model S a fairer fight.
Not all-electric, but green
Critics of the BMW i8 immediately point out it’s not an all-electric vehicle but rather a plug-in hybrid with fewer than 25 miles of range before the combustion engine kicks into gear. All told, the i8 can get over 90 mpg with its combined engine performance. That figure is a far cry from the 265-mile range of the top-shelf Model S, but 90 mpg is about double the best fuel efficiency standards in non-electric vehicles. Furthermore, the electric miles-per-gallon rating known as “MPGe” for the Model S (90 MPGe) lands it right at the i8′s rating.
In other words, there’s a great deal of “green” in the BMW i8 to go along with its first-class styling points, like “scissor” doors and LED lights. On the question of performance, the BMW i8 is the only EV to compete with the high performance standards of the Model S in the price zone. Capable of 362 horsepower on 420 lb-ft of torque, the i8 can flash from 0 to 62 in 4.4 seconds. Only the performance version of the Model S 85 kWh model can best that time.
Though the i8 has been considered a supercar beyond the price range of even normal luxury consumers, its price is miles — but not light years — away from a similarly equipped Model S.
The Model S 85 kwh battery trim with performance enhancements can hit a max 416 hp on 443 lb-ft of torque. This heavy dose of power comes at a starting price of $87,070 before configuring the vehicle any further. The BMW i8 will start at a base price of $135,925 in the United States. A fair question is whether that price would discourage many consumers who set out to spend $90K-$100K on a car in the first place. The leap from $95K to $135K doesn’t seem terribly large.
BMW’s Olympic ad campaign
BMW avoided placing an ad for its electric “i” Series during the Super Bowl, but the German automaker is making headlines for its sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic team and the Olympic ads going along with it. A German company supporting America’s national athletes? It’s a reflection of the global nature of the auto industry. In fact, BMW helped design the U.S. men’s bobsled in the midst of a six-year commitment to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The German automaker sees this big stage as the perfect vehicle for launching both the i8 and the i3, the small “city car” that received such an unfriendly reception from Elon Musk. In fact, Musk recently went back to damning world automakers with faint praise. Forbes reports Tesla CEO joined Tesla Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel for a number of town-hall-style meetings in the Netherlands and, perhaps not coincidentally, in Germany. There Musk discussed the automaker’s huge plans for battery production and the impact Tesla has on the industry.
“When you consider what is the fundamental good Tesla will achieve, it’s getting the rest of the car industry to move toward sustainable transport faster,” Musk said. “I don’t know why they’re taking so long.”
Saying he hoped the big automakers copied Tesla, Musk revisited his support of the industry’s progress overall. Of course, there’s never any question which company he believes stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Musk told a crowd in Oslo, Norway, on February 1 that the battery factory Tesla is to open will produce more lithium-ion batteries than China, Korea, and Taiwan produced in all their battery factories combined in 2012. Though he noted he hadn’t seen the production stats from 2013 for those countries, the grand scale of Tesla’s ambition is clear. The electric vehicle maker hopes to be a major player in the industry soon.
In the meantime, Tesla will avoid the sponsorships that companies on BMW’s scale have no problem affording and stick to the company’s own considerable press machine. When you have a chief executive capable of such winning public appearances, the headlines tend to write themselves.