Elon Musk may have chuckled at the i3 when it first apppeared, but BMW’s little electric car is finding its audience just four months after its debut on the U.S. market. According to InsideEVs, sales of the i3 nearly tripled from July to August as it vanquished the Prius plug-in model and even outranked the Model S by the website’s estimates. No matter what’s behind the surge, it’s safe to say the BMW i3 has made its presence felt throughout the EV industry.
BMW i3 versus the competition
According to the InsideEVs monthly scorecard, BMW sold 1,025 models of the i3 after opening in May with 336 units sold and closing July with 363 units sold (1,057 through the three months). August sales represented a 282 percent month-over-month jump.
While the Nissan Leaf logged its best month of U.S. sales ever (3,186 cars) and the Chevy Volt had its best month of 2014 (2,511 cars), none showed a marked improvement like the BMW i3. To put it in perspective, the Toyota Prius plug-in plummeted to 818 cars sold in August after hitting over 1,000 in sales for six months straight and peaking at 2,692 sales in May. BMW’s compact EV is heading in the opposite direction.
Since Tesla only reports quarterly sales (without separating foreign from domestic stats), there is guesswork involved with how the Model S fared in August. Estimates by InsideEVs sound low at 600 (Green Car Reports estimates 1,200), but if that figure were accurate, then BMW would have had the last laugh in August.
Since the BMW i3 is such a new vehicle to the market, it is possible that limited availability was an issue for sales leading up to August. Now that production has hit its stride, buyers can jump on the car as desired. Practical factors may have contributed, as well.
In late July, BMW announced the ChargeNow DC Fast program that would give buyers of the i3 the chance to charge to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes at no cost. Fast Charge capability runs i3 buyers $700. In effect, it was the entry of the automaker’s Supercharger network, though the BMW promotion will only last through 2015. (Tesla’s is free forever for 85 kWh Model S owners, or charging is free with an option costing $2,000 for 60 kWh Model S buyers.)
A breakdown of which i3 model is outperforming the other was not immediately available. BMW sells both the all-electric i3 rated at 81 miles of electric range (124 MPGe) or a range-extending version with a gas motor that turns the i3 into a hybrid with another 78 miles of range (72 miles of electric range and 117 MPGe).
That means the top range of either BMW i3 is 150 miles, still far below what a Tesla Model S in any trim can deliver. Whether the new fast-charging option or the ability to get your hands on one is the motivator, the i3 has found its way on the U.S. market.