By Andreas Cremer and Deepa Seetharaman
LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - BMW aims to win a "meaningful" segment of the electric car market with its i-series battery-powered models by offering luxurious styling and packages designed to help owners overcome the traditional hurdles to electric car ownership.
Among the incentives offered by the world's biggest luxury carmaker is what it calls "BMW add-on mobility", which gives owners access to a pool of traditional gas-powered BMW vehicles to use on longer journeys when an electric car might not be practical.
The option aims to allay a common concern among potential buyers of electric cars -- so-called range anxiety, or the fear of being stranded when the battery runs out of electricity. This is part of BMW's broader push to broaden the appeal of its i3 electric car, which was unveiled by executives in three cities worldwide on Monday.
The company said the projected range for its i3 standard model would be about 80-100 miles on a single charge.
"We're not entering to be a niche player," BMW sales chief Ian Robertson told reporters at the i3's launch event in London, staged to coincide with others in New York and Beijing.
"We're targeting meaningful sales," he said, in an electric-car market that BMW expects will grow to between 150,000 and 160,000 vehicles globally this year, from 7,000 in 2010.
BMW has declined to give sales or production goals for the four-seater i3, to be followed early next year by a battery-powered i8 sports car. During an interview with Reuters TV, BMW Chief Executive Officer Norbert Reithofer said he expects the vehicle to make a "positive contribution" to earnings immediately.
Limited driving ranges, high prices and relatively Spartan interiors have hobbled demand for electric vehicles made the other car makers with including Nissan Motor Co Ltd, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.. Edmunds.com predicts electric cars will account for 0.1 percent of the U.S. market this year, 1.1 percent in 2017 and 2.3 percent by 2020.
BMW joins U.S. automaker Tesla Motors Inc in trying to change the stereotype of electric cars through beautiful styling. Both companies are also taking steps to make owning a battery powered car easier. BMW's Reithofer called Tesla "an example" of how a premium car company could approach the electric car market.
"Tesla is one of those brands which is trying to make this type of car premium and emotionally involving," said Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president of group design for BMW.
Tesla has said it expects to deliver 21,000 Model S cars worldwide. The strength of demand for the Model S has surprised industry experts, investors and analysts.
The upcoming i8 will rival Tesla's Model S sedan, which starts at around $70,000 before a federal tax credit. Tesla is working on a lower cost vehicle that would compete with the i3.
BMW already sees good sales potential for its first all-electric vehicle in affluent urban regions of California, Europe and Asia, Robertson said. Some 92,000 people have expressed an interest online in test-driving the i3.
Demand will rise as the number of people living in urban environments more than doubles to 4-5 billion over the next 20-25 years, Robertson said, citing United Nations projections.
While the i3's 34,950 euro ($46,400) price tag is well above the conventional BMW 3-Series sedans, it also qualifies for tax breaks and generous upfront government incentives in markets such as Britain and the United States.
The company, which has trademarked its new "i" series through to i9, does not yet have another i-branded model in development to follow the i8, Robertson said.
(Additional reporting by Deepa Seetharaman in New York; Editing by Pravin Char and Ken Wills)