BMW i3 Enters the Electric Scrum

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The all-electric, pint-sized BMW i3 launched today in New York, London and Beijing to great fanfare and is positioned within the German automaker's fleet as the mega-city vehicle of the future. Reminiscent of the Isetta "bubble car" spliced with the "Jetsons"-esque vehicle from Kubrick's A.I., the sub-compact Bimmer begs a fundamental question: can the cool factor actually drive sales?

That's all the more relevant given that Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz led Bayerische Motoren Werke AG's BMW in U.S. deliveries by 1,519 vehicles after the first six months of 2013. That's a change from the norm, given that BMW has held the luxury sales crown in the U.S. for the last two years with 281,460 BMW brand vehicles sold in 2012 compared to 274,134 Mercedes-Benz brand vehicles sold last year.

Six years of Munich R&D has gone into pushing forward the Project i sub-brand, which developed from the MINI E and will also steward the release of the i8, an EV supercar. To boot, the whole initiative encompasses a larger-scale sustainability platform, including a BMW venture capital initiative with $100 million invested each year toward green development.

Still, challenges abound in getting this murine pip-squeak of a car to catch on.

That's because despite the buzz these all-electric cars generate, challenges abound in terms of moving units: the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S have not mustered big sales, despite the attention and brouhaha.