Either get in line for the electric BMW i3 or wait for the bigger, better, Tesla-beating BMW i5

The implementation of BMW’s electric “Project i” program is proceeding apace, with the i3 electric city car set to arrive in US dealers this March. However, if you’re looking to just walk off the street and by one, you’re going to have to get in line.

Jacob Harb, the German automaker’s head of electric vehicle operations and strategy, told AutoblogGreen that the first i3 order slots will go to customers who participated in the ActiveE lease program.

Dubbed “Electronauts”, these early adopters drove BMW’s 1 Series-based electric cars as part of a pilot program, which helped the company acquire valuable insight into how ordinary drivers use electric cars.

There will also be a special Electronaut Edition i3 at launch. BMW hasn’t specified what will make this model different from a normal i3 but, like most automotive special editions, the changes probably won’t be too dramatic. Expect some extra equipment, some model-specific cosmetic enhancements, and a few badges.

As the i3 hits showrooms, BMW will move on to development of another electric car.

Harb told AutoblogGreen that this new model will be bigger than the i3 and have more range. It doesn’t have a name yet, although i5 makes sense given BMW’s traditional naming scheme. Just as the 5 Series sits above the 3 Series in BMW’s sedan hierarchy, the bigger i5 would sit above the i3. BMW itself is reportedly still developing the model, so virtually everything is up in the air – especially the all-important design.


Autobild’s interpretation of what the BMW i5 could look like

It does make sense for a larger car with more range to command a higher price than the i3, which starts at $42,275 before federal, state, and local incentives ($46,225 with the range extender). That would put the i5 into Tesla Model S territory, potentially giving the Silicon Valley upstart a worthy electric competitor.

It will also be interesting to see how BMW positions the i5. The i3 was envisioned as the ultimate car for the modern “mega city,” so will the i5 be designed for mega suburbs? Or will it have a less-specific mission?

We’ll learn more as this new electric car gestates.