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BMW's Electric Car Cut From A Different Cloth

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The automaker BMW has been a tease over the past year. The company's been offering sneak peeks of various parts of its long-awaited electric car, the i3. The car was fully unveiled yesterday in New York, and the overall design caught people by surprise.

Here's Tracy Samilton from Michigan Radio.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Three, two, one, zero.

(SOUNDBITE OF A DRUMROLL)

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: So, it's official. Every car company worth its salt now has an electric car. But, of course, BMW isn't just any car company. So the unveiling of the i3 is guaranteed to create buzz.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAMILTON: And that would be the case, even if the car's styling weren't so different.

JOHN WOLKONOWITZ: Well, let's put it this way. The design is very creative.

SAMILTON: That's not really a rave review from independent auto analyst John Wolkonowitz. He says the squat, two-tone design reminds him of a sneaker, not a classic Beemer.

WOLKONOWITZ: This is just more than a car in the BMW lineup. This can have a negative impact on the entire brand.

SAMILTON: But Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific isn't worried about the i3's funky, city car vibe. He says BMW is making the i-series almost a separate brand, like the Prius is for Toyota.

DAVE SULLIVAN: There's this group of people who, they don't want to be seen in anything but a BMW. But they would like to have an electric vehicle.

SAMILTON: Aside from styling, the i3 breaks ground in what it's made of.

SULLIVAN: We haven't really seen this much carbon fiber in a vehicle that costs around $40,000.

SAMILTON: That's because carbon fiber - while strong and lightweight - is also expensive to make and hard to repair. Sullivan says that could make a relatively inexpensive BMW pretty expensive to insure. The car will go on sale towards the middle of 2014.

For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.