Predicting demand for electric vehicles has proven to be a difficult task. Both GM and Nissan had admit to not hitting their sales predictions when they first launched their respective electric vehicles. Tesla, on the other hand seems to have their sales constricted by battery supply issues and not by a lack of customer demand.
BMW has been very quiet with regard to talking about sales targets for the i3. It has been reported that BMW will have the ability to make 30,000 i3's per year and could possibly push that up to 40,000 if the demand warrants it. However that isn't right out of the gate. The first year of production will most certainly be much lower than 30,000 regardless of the demand. Because everything about the i3 requires a completely new manufacturing process it's going to take a little while for BMW to work out any initial kinks in the assembly process. Plus, BMW can only make as many i3's as they get battery cells for. Yes BMW does assemble the battery pack in-house at their Landshut plant, but they do get the cells from a supplier (Samsung) and will be limited to what Samsung can supply.
|The i3 battery pack consists of 8 modules, each consisting of 12 individual cells. Pictured above is one i3 module with an individual cell positioned in front.|
Initial European orders have been very strong which is good for BMW and a good sign in general for the EV industry, but may squeeze i3 availability for the US market. BMW North American CEO Ludwig Willisch recently told the Automotive News that he believes BMW will sell every i3 allocated to US dealers and wouldn't comment on volume any more than saying the US would get "more than a few thousand". In 2011, the first full year of US sales for the Volt and the LEAF, they sold 7,345 and 9,655 units respectively. The market for electric vehicles has matured a bit since then which is an advantage for the i3, but the i3 is also much more expensive than either the Volt or the LEAF so that will certainly be a sales-restricting factor in itself. Throw in the fact that we don't know how many i3's BMW can supply the US in the first year and it really is difficult to even guess how many will be sold in 2014. Maybe that's why Willisch and the others at BMW are reluctant to offer any real sales prediction other than to say "strong demand"; or perhaps it's because they watched Nissan and GM fall short and have to address their mistakes and eat a little crow. My guess is it's the latter.