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Thursday, December 12, 2013

BMW to Make a Limited Edition "Electronaut Edition" i3

Introducing the "Electronaut Sport Edition". Something like this would be my first preference for the Electronauts .
A few weeks ago in LA at the West Coast Electronaut i3 event we first heard that BMW was planning on making a special "Electronaut Edition" i3 that would only be available to the ActiveE Electronauts. We weren't given any details, only that we would be offered a special version of the i3 that nobody else will be able to buy and that we will get the first i3 that arrive in the US.

The MINI-E was no stranger to a flatbed
Most of the ActiveE drivers expected some kind of thank you for being in the ActiveE trial lease program. In fact, many of us have been in BMW's e-mobility test program for nearly five years now, dating back to the MINI-E days. While most of us have genuinely enjoyed our time with these special cars, it hasn't been without sacrifice. Just about all of us have been left stranded on the road at some point or another because the car broke down, and some have had it happen to them many times in fact. I don't remember exactly, but between the MINI-E and ActiveE I've probably had to have the cars towed to the dealer for service five or six times and they have been in for service for probably a combined 4 or 5 months. Besides that, we had to take the cars in for regular check ups every 3 to 6 months or 5,000 miles and with my high mileage, I've had to have the car serviced every two months or so. That adds up to about 25 trips to the dealer for me alone so far for basic service and check ups. What I'm basically saying is that we have been good soldiers. We have provided BMW with an immense amount of real world data and a tremendous amount of feedback, all of which has helped to make the i3 and future BMW electrics better cars.

Personally I was expecting some kind of generous discount on an i3. I figured we would get some kind of deal like we'd get a fully loaded i3 with any options we want for the i3's regular base price of $41,350(BEV) or $45,200(REx). That way we would still be paying for the car, but get any options we wanted for free. I'd sign up for that and feel that BMW was definitely showing their appreciation for our efforts and inconveniences during the trials. But now that they are talking about a special limited "Electronaut Edition" I'm not sure what to think. I like the idea, but a little worried that some of us won't find the "special features" so special. It's hard to please everyone.

White i3 with BWM i Blue accents
So yesterday we had the East Coast Electronaut meet at BMW's North American headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. After taking turns driving i3's and getting a tour of the battery tech department and even getting to see a real i3 battery back opened up, we had a question and answer session with Jacob Harb, manager of electric vehicle sales and service for BMW NA. It didn't take long for the topic of the special Electronaut Edition to come up. We still didn't get much details, but were told it's not just going to be stickers and a chrome badge, that the car will indeed have special equipment that isn't available on any other i3. Then Jacob asked us what we would think about it being available is a special color combination that isn't available to regular buyers and he threw out white with BMW i Blue accents. That surprised me a bit because that is one of the regular i3 color combos. I later asked a program manager about that and was told the white i3 will not be available in the US like it is in Europe, for at least the first year! So white would actually be an exclusive color here. Still, I'm not going for that. I don't really like the i3 in White and I'll have to pass on the Electronaut Edition if it only comes in white which is what Jacob was implying.

Laurel Gray is my favorite i3 color
However they weren't saying that this is etched in stone. BMW was just trying to take our temperature on the subject of color. Personally I don't think they can mandate any one particular color for the Electronaut Edition. No matter what color they choose they will get a minority approval. BMW will have to let us pick the color or at the very least offer three exterior color choices for this special edition. My favorite i3 color is Laurel Gray with the BMW i Blue trim. I like how it lessens the two-tone color scheme that stands out on all the other i3's. plus, if they really want to offer us a special color, they should use the Protonic Blue offered on the i8 or grab a unique color from the ///M division. The white with a black hood and roof looks too much like a Panda bear for me and in fact we joke about that in the i3 Facebook group all the time.

I definitely appreciate that BMW is making the effort to make us feel special, and as a group we all think that's a great gesture. However I just hope they get it right. Obviously nothing short of giving us free cars is going to please everybody - and even then some will probably say they should have given us i8's!  So I'll offer three different ideas that they could do that would be pretty cool.

1) My #1 choice: The i3 Electronaut Sport Edition. Think Mi3. Available only in Solar Orange, Laurel Gray and Ionic Blue. Give it a special interior, beef up the suspension, add unique sport wheels with stickier tires and give it a little more torque and HP (I'm sure they can do that with the same motor they have with very little tweaking) and you'll have a 6 second 0-60 car that will have better handling than 90% of all the sports cars out there. Sure we'll have a little less range but the smiles-per-hour will increase.

2) Old school: The MINI-E i3: Start with MINI-E numbered badges. This will add to the exclusivity of the cars.  We loved our numbered badges in the MINI-E program. It gave our cars which all looked alike unique personalities. I was MINI-E #250. The MINI-E pioneers even identified ourselves by our numbers and would say something like "I saw 183 last night". That was a cool feature that we all loved. Bring it back for the Electronaut Edition! They could also have an optional  MINI-E Gray & Yellow trim color scheme(hell, all the i3 colors are gray anyway!). This edition would also come fully loaded with every option available but we would pay only the base MSRP, essentially getting all the options for free. Although I was MINI-E #250, I'll gladly take i3 #1 if offered! ;)

3) The discount deal:  A straight 20% off. Instead of trying to figure out what color we want or what options are most popular just let us order our cars in a configuration we want and simply give us 20% off. That is a significant deal, considering the cost of the car. A fully loaded i3 REx will be about $50,000 before incentives. This would slash $10,000 off the price and after we get the $7,500 tax credit it our net would be about $32,500 and in CA it would be $29,950 because of the State discount! Yes it's a big discount but it will also save BMW money in not having to make a unique color or offer options that aren't available on other i3's. Making things like that in small quantities cost's a lot. Don't do anything special and just pass the savings along to us.

If you're an ActiveE driver post what you would want the Electronaut edition to be in the comments, I'm sure BMW will be reading!

Edit: A fellow Electronaut, David Sapp just offered a great suggestion over in our Facebook group. He wrote:

I like these ideas, Tom, but I'm going to throw out one not yet mentioned: for those of us who don't want to lease, offer a LIFETIME WARRANTY for Electronauts' i3 purchases. Bumper-to-bumper, everything included, with no limit in years or coverage restrictions. If there has to be a mileage cap, it should be somewhere north of 150,000. 

I've had two motor replacements in my ActiveE in addition to a host of other squirrelly things going on. I won't have confidence in my i3 purchase unless I have an ironclad warranty for as long as I choose to own the i3. Making the lifetime warranty non-transferable is fine, but make it last as long as the original Electronaut-owner chooses to drive the car, not just the typical 3-5 years. When I buy a new car, I want to keep it longer than three years, but I certainly don't want to get stuck with a five-figure motor-replacement bill. 

I think a lifetime warranty for us would be a great perk and appropriate. Since we have been the real world Guinea pigs and driving beta test cars for years now, we all have had many technical issues to deal with. Knowing that for as long as we own the cars we don't have any worry about paying for any repairs would be awesome. Great idea David!