Monday, July 15, 2013

Was Giving the i3 Only 4 Seats an "Unforced Error"?

This i3 spy shot clearly shows a plastic tray separating the two rear seats.
The i3 is going to only have 4 seats. That was something that has pretty much been an accepted fact since BMW first announced the "Megacity" vehicle would go into production. However now that we are on the verge of the official unveiling later this month some people are starting to ask why not make it seat five?

The i3 concept coupe rear seats
I've seen both the original i3 concept and the i3 concept coupe in person and they both appear wide enough to accommodate three people back there. Add the fact that there is no transmission tunnel to get in the way of the middle passengers feet and one does start to wonder about it. Over in the Facebook i3 group, Anton Wahlman, a contributor to The Street likened BMW's decision to make the i3 only seat four an "unforced error" since it would appear the car could accommodate three in the rear seat if only BMW had wanted it to. Anton said:
If you can't fit 3 people in the rear seat, it will significantly reduce the propensity of a Volt owner to switch. If this is true, it would be an unforced error in terms of understanding the (American) consumer." He also said:
The #1 reason I hear people aren't buying the Volt is the lack of seating for 5. Not the ONLY reason, but the single most frequent one. GM knows this, so the Volt 2.0 (2015 model, launched in 2014) will fit 3 people in the back seat."
Anton is speaking from experience, he drives a Volt. He makes a very good point about a Volt owner switching to an i3. 

Both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF launched in December of 2010. So anyone that was an early adopter and rushed out to get one of the first Volts or LEAFs took delivery in the end of 2010 to the beginning of 2011. Many of these people took the attractive 3 year lease options offered and guess when all those leases are expiring? Yep, pretty much exactly when the i3 will be launching. The i3 is the perfect next step for existing Volt and LEAF owners because it offers more electric range plus a range extender, a combination no other EV does. I have personally received dozens of messages and emails from people in this position wanting to know if I had inside information about the exact launch date because they want to transition directly from their LEAF or Volt into an i3 but don't know if the i3 will be available when their lease expires. 
The original concept had rear bucket seats

As Anton mentioned, it's rumored that Chevy is going to make a 5 seat Volt for the 2015 model. If so, they will sell both a 4 seat Volt and a 5 Seat Volt when the redesigned Volt 2.0 is released later next year. So apparently the Volts lack of a 5th seat was a significant issue, enough for GM to redesign the battery tunnel to allow for a center rear seat. Since the i3 doesn't have a battery tunnel in the first place, and appears to be about as wide as a Volt there must be other reasons BMW elected to make the back seat only for two passengers. Weight considerations could be the main culprit I suspect but regulatory issues and crash test ratings could be possible reasons also. We know how hard BMW worked to keep the i3 weight as low as possible, shedding every pound that wasn't absolutely essential. A lot more goes into adding the third seat than simply adding an extra seatbelt. The suspension would also need to be modified which would add weight and make for a stiffer ride. I wonder if BMW will do what they did with the MINI Countryman and offer a third seat option at a later date if this becomes a bigger issue than they expect. 

Taking all that into consideration, BMW still hasn't revealed the exact width of the production i3. They did reveal the length in the recent press release which surprisingly will be 6 inches longer than the original i3 concept was. The original concept was 151.4" and the production i3 will be 157.4". It will be interesting to see what the width actually is. If it's wider than 67" (which is about what a 5 passenger Honda Fit is at 66.7") then I may agree with Anton about it being an unforced error unless BMW gives a proper explanation why adding the fifth seat would not have been a good idea. I'm sure offering the i3 as a 5 passenger vehicle compared to a 4 passenger vehicle would open it up to a much broader audience of perspective buyers. After all, virtually all of the top selling passenger cars in the US are 5 passenger vehicles for a reason. 
This is probably the best interior picture of an i3 available. You can see it appears there is plenty of rear legroom


  1. Seating three in the back would be a huge bonus. There had to be a legitimate reason they didn't do it. It will cost them sales. Small cars like the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Honda Fit as you mentioned all seat 5. Even the tiny Toyota Yaris hatchback seats 5.

  2. BMW had this in the X6 and a rail system in the MINI Countryman, both cars also have bench seat options. I wonder if this is a cost cutting measure like the non LED headlights to bring the base price down and then can be added as an option later.


  3. Great post, Tom. The fifth seat is a must in the US market. I'm very active in the Nissan LEAF community, and the ability to seat five people when needed was a major selling point for that vehicle. Much more so than a battery temperature management system. It could be argued that many buyers didn't know they needed it. What they did know was that they wanted a fifth seat, which made them select the LEAF over a Volt in many, many instances.

  4. "As Anton mentioned, Chevy is going to make a 5 seat Volt for the 2015 model. They will sell both a 4 seat Volt and a 5 Seat Volt when the redesigned Volt 2.0 is released later next year."

    I'm surprised you took Anton's speculation at face value. It would be ludicrous for GM to engineer (and support ...) two slightly different battery packs just to give someone the choice between A) a fifth seat and B) slightly improved range. They'll make one battery, and one rear seat, and that's it. I do think they'll adjust the battery profile to fit the third seat back there.

    1. Chis I've seen this talked about in other places and even talked about at the NY Auto show. There hasn't been an official announcement about it as far as I know but I do know the lack of a 5th seat has been the #1 complain they have had. Perhaps I'm wrong - it won't be the first time!

  5. Looks like the i3 is 70" wide, wider than the Nissan Leaf - what a shame to leave out the 5th seat. It was a key point in my selection of the Leaf over the Volt. And I had hoped the i# would have been the Lead replacement when my lease expires.

  6. I currently own a 2012 Leaf and when my lease expires I was hoping to transition to the BMW i3. With a family of five the inability to fit my family keeps me out of the market for this car. I hope BMW changes the future design to five seats!

  7. Anton nailed it. The 5 seat was the biggest issue why I couldn't buy the Volt, though I really really wanted to, when I was in the market a few months ago. The 5 seat BMW i3 search query is also what brought me to this blog.

  8. I have researched the specs of the BMW i3 extensively and have test driven it. The ONLY reason I have not purchased one is because it has four seats, not five. This is monumentally disappointing. BMW, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE make this an option in the near future or you will lose many a perspective buyer.

  9. Yes please make a 5 seats option. This is also the reason that I will net get it. I have 3 kids and their is plenty of room for them. Please bmw can you make it a option

  10. Bmw, another buyer for the i3 with 5 seats...

  11. Same here, would go to the showroom and buy one tomorrow if it had 5 seats.