BMW i3 Buyers Face Long Wait Times for Delivery

By · April 10, 2014

BMW i3

The BMW i3 has had a long gestation period, and attended many roll-out parties, such as this gala in New York. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The BMW i3 has enjoyed an extended honeymoon period, with gala events around the world celebrating a work in progress. It’s been a long wait, but the car is finally coming our way. Or at least it will be. “From everything I’ve heard so far, we’ll have them to dealers in May,” said Dave Buchko, a BMW advanced powertrain spokesman. “They could arrive before that.”

BMW said in early February that is had taken 11,000 orders for the car, with 1,200 of them being in the U.S. But since the car has been so heavily publicized, demand is likely to outstrip supply for a while. And, in some cases, a long time.

Maybe 2016?

“We’re getting just eight of them initially,” said Jason Gellatly, a client advisor at BMW’s Bridgeport, Connecticut dealership. “We’ve been sold out for a while. If you came to me now, I’d say you’re not getting a car in 2014 and not in 2015, but maybe 2016.”

Wow, 2016! Connecticut is a very EV-friendly state, and there are plenty of consumers with the money (this is hedge fund country) to pay $41,350 (before incentives) for a designer car. Buyers may be patient, but not enough to wait two years—too long a delay and they’ll purchase something else.

Asked about that extra-long wait, Buchko says, “We’d all be thrilled if the demand for the car is that high, but it sounds awfully ambitious to me. We haven’t heard of waits that long, and we wouldn’t want people to get discouraged.”

Jack Nerad, executive editorial director at Kelley Blue Book, looks at it this way. "I think there is the real possibility of disgruntling customers if i3s cannot be delivered in a relatively timely manner," he said. "BMW is stuck in a hard place here. It wants to launch in the U.S. while the publicity is flowing in a positive way, but if it can get significant numbers into the market, it risks upsetting customers."

According to some commentators, BMW is giving preference to American i3 customers, and that fact is responsible for the six-month wait in Europe. Maybe so, but it's still unclear how long the U.S. wait will be, even if we are favored.

Test Drive Cars on the Way

Potential i3 owners should check with their dealers about test drives, because BMW is circulating a group of four or five early European production i3s around the U.S. for that purpose. Al Herbst, a senior sales person at Center BMW in Sherman Oaks, near Los Angeles, said he is anticipating those test cars arriving this coming weekend. “It’s going to be a big event,” he said, describing the i3 as “a Jetsons car that is five years ahead of its time.”

Herbst said that a 2016 delivery date is "extreme." He said, "Look, we're the capital of cars here in LA, and people won't have to wait that long."

BMW i3

The BMW i3 on the stand at EVS27 in Barcelona. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Herbst counts 27 or 28 i3s ordered, and an initial delivery of 10 cars maybe in one or two months. He doesn’t know how long new customers will have to wait for their cars, but he projects just two or three months. “That’s more than a guess, but part of it is a guess,” he said.

How Many Range Extenders?

Buchko doesn’t want to speculate about the market share for the range-extender REx model. The range extender qualifies for both the $7,500 federal income tax credit and the state’s $2,500 rebate.

The only compromise for range-extender customers is a green sticker for California HOV lanes. The supply of those is limited to 40,000 and approximately 30,000 have already been issued. The white HOV sticker is unlimited, but only the battery-only car gets it.


· · 4 years ago

The only compromise for range-extender customers is a green sticker for California HOV lanes. The supply of those is limited to 40,000 and approximately 30,000 have already been issued. The white HOV sticker is unlimited, but only the battery-only car gets it.

This seems a pretty big wrinkle, since the "silver bullet" feature of the i3 in California was supposed to be that white sticker. Most assumed the REx qualified for it because the mini gas tank provided less range than the battery, making it a "BEVx", understood to mean getting BEV treatment overall. Given BMW sales in California and the desirability of HOV lane access there, BMW might even have engineered the REx for the purpose of navigating the rules.

Turns out, not so much. Even if the BEVx designation preserves BMW's gold ZEV credits for REx sales, from a buyer perspective California has flipped from being the best market for the i3 REx to the worst. Now, checking the REx box will cost you both HOV access AND about $5k (because of reduced state tax incentives vs. the BEV version).

In any case, I think the CT dealer projecting a 2-year wait was delusional. Aside from the amazing "HOV access AND unlimited range" deal in CA that you now can't get, the car is a decidedly mixed bag. As has been noted elsewhere, practical longer-range driving requires engagement of the REx long before the battery is depleted in order to maintain a power reserve for passing, inclines, etc. - all very fiddly, not at all an "ultimate" driving experience. And if BMW wants to keep their ZEV credits, they'll probably have to disable even this "charge preserve" capability in CA, making the REx more of an "emergency only" feature. While the REx will save the need for a tow, driving after it's engaged (which in CA may only be allowed after the battery is depleted) will be no fun at all.

· · 4 years ago

Extending the wait for those of us in California is that the I3 Rex has not yet been certified for sale in California. Some believe this will happen soon but others think there is a long ways to go. I believe it will be the latter but am routing for the former. My son and I purchased the i3, but it is discouraging to hear that the i3 Bev launch edition will arrive in California this month, leaving those of us who bought the launch edition of the Rex in limbo with an indeterminate future. Now that's going to discourage prospective Rex buyers--unless BMW and the California Air Resource Board get their act together. Some blame BMW while others blame the ARB. For ordinary citizens and buyers, we are stuck between two monolithic organizations, neither of them showing much transparency or willingness to communicate with their constituents.

· · 4 years ago

I test drove one in the Bay Area and the salesman told me that initially only the highest trim level would be available. It was a while ago but I think he said the end the year for the lower level trims. Has anyone else heard about this?

· · 4 years ago

@ctaylor, I have an i3 reservation and yes it is true, all the initial i3s will come in Tera trim and you have to pick a metallic paint. It also comes with all the optional packages, the only other things you have a choice on besides the color are the wheels and the REx generator. You can choose to upgrade to the 20 inch wheels and add the REx if you want.

· · 4 years ago

@ctaylor, @CDspeed, the Tera only trim rumor is false. I ordered a Giga model. Dealer has informed me that it arrived at Oxnard on April 29 and should be delivered in May. Photos of i3s at US docks appeared on Friday also. The variety of wheels show all three trim levels.

· · 4 years ago

@CoolBreezer: Why would Tesla's Superchargers be relevant to BMW's i3? i3s can't use Tesla chargers as far as I know (but hey, I've misunderstood things before, so educate away).

Speaking of options, I see the SAE DC fast charge connection is optional. I wonder what portion of the i3s soon coming to market will include it?

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