A new car's biggest competitor is sometimes the one that came before it.

That wasn't supposed to be the case with the upcoming 2014 BMW i3 electric car and its predecessor, the ActiveE tested by hundreds of U.S. drivers.

Those "Electronauts"--as BMW calls them--paid to lease the car and provide feedback and real-world usage data to BMW, but they will soon have to return their cars.

The BMW 1-Series converted to all-electric propulsion has now apparently fulfilled its mission of gathering real-world data on electric-car usage, to the benefit of the BMW i3.

Yet now we learn that not all ActiveE drivers will make the move to the i3. According to Transport Evolved, many think the i3 is too expensive--or just not the car for them.

BMW ActiveE electric car, January 2012, New Jersey

BMW ActiveE electric car, January 2012, New Jersey

Some falloff is inevitable, of course: Family circumstances and needs change, people move, or other factors intervene. Poll respondents were also a minority of the whole ActiveE driver pool.

Still, the survey found that many ActiveE drivers felt the i3's price was just too high--even if they otherwise liked the car.

Participants said BMW was not offering a competitive lease, especially given that there are now far more new electric cars on the market than when the ActiveE launched back in 2012.

The ActiveE lease price was $499 a month, after a $2,250 down payment. In comparison, the i3 will lease for around $900 a month.

Other drivers were turned off by the i3's unusual, even radical, design.

BMW has said the i3 was designed maximize efficiency and ease of driving in urban areas. That's why it has a tall profile and narrow footprint--to maximize visibility and interior space--along with narrow tires to reduce frontal area for aerodynamic efficiency.

However, some ActiveE drivers thought the i3 was so radical that it became impractical. Some felt it didn't have enough luggage space, while one individual compared the driving experience to that of a minivan.

BMW ActiveE electric car at a charge point

BMW ActiveE electric car at a charge point

Reviewers have also criticized its small rear doors, which require the front doors to be opened before they can be used--meaning rear passengers can't get out on their own.

Although BMW Electronauts will get first priority when ordering an i3, some also say that BMW hasn't provided information about the new car, or adequate time for test drives.

The confusion over the range-extended model's eligibility for a California carpool lane sticker has also created doubts among ActiveE drivers.

Finally, there are now simply more choices available--fully 16 different plug-in models for sale in at least some part of the country.

ActiveE drivers who weren't particularly loyal to the BMW brand say they are tempted by the Nissan Leaf--which has more range than the i3, for a lower price--and the Tesla Model S, which many customers argued was a more credible luxury car.

Apparently, brand loyalty only takes an automaker so far--even in the electric-car market.


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