BMW to sell eco-friendly i3 and i8 online

By bypassing a test drive buyers will be able to get a small discount on their eco-friendly BMW.

BMW has announced that it will sell its upcoming electric and plug-in hybrid i lineup via the internet in order to reach the widest possible audience.

It is too early to say what shape the purchasing platform will take but it will be squarely aimed at buyers that regularly make purchases on the internet. By bypassing a test drive and a chat with a salesman, these buyers will be able to get a small discount on their eco-friendly BMW.

BMW hopes that reaching out to customers online will enable it to increase its profit margins on the electric i3 hatchback and the plug-in hybrid i8 supercar. Frost & Sullivan, a business research and consulting firm, estimates that BMW has spent about $3 billion on developing the two cars. Much to BMW's chagrin, EVs and plug-in hybrids have not been the strong sellers that analysts predicted and governments hoped they would be.

BMW's announcement does not mean that the i3 and the i8 will be exclusively sold online. The German automaker explained that it will select a handful of dealers in each country that the cars will be sold in to become authorized i agents. These dealers will need to have both the personnel and the showroom space to display the i vehicles and the technology that is packed into them.

How consumers will react to the online store remains to be seen. On one hand it will enable them to save money; on the other hand many buyers might be weary of buying a car, let alone an expensive one that features technology that is unfamiliar to them, without seeing it in person and driving it.

If the online sales program is successful BMW has not ruled out expanding it to include cars from its regular lineup, though a decision on that matter is still several years away.

BMW is not the first automaker to sell its cars directly online: Renault-owned Dacia started a similar program dubbed Dacia Store in Italy late last fall. Still at the pilot program stage, the low-cost brand has not decided whether it is worth expanding the Dacia Store outside of Italy.

BMW i3 Concept