I spent a few days driving around BMW’s new i3, the latest car to enter the all-electric consumer vehicle market.
It’s a nice car. The exterior is polarizing—some praise its curves as sleek and futuristic, while others denounce it a goofy, hideous bubble that can’t be taken seriously. What can be taken seriously, though, are electric vehicles as an idea. A concept. A way of the future.
And they are. The future, that is. There’s no doubt about it. Self-driving cars, too, but that’s another story.
Here’s the thing about the future, though: it’s not the present. The i3 showcases the potential of tomorrow beautifully, but falls short of what most humans demand in, and expect of, a car today.
The i3 (given to me courtesy of BMW Canada) is a smooth, surprisingly fast ride that accelerates quickly but silently. It turns sharply, it parks itself, and it’s well-attuned to your own technology, like your iPhone or BlackBerry. But it’s also a car with a very short range per battery charge—100 to 130 kilometres, depending on your driving habits—ideal for city driving and commutes but nothing more. And if you don’t have a house or a future-forward condo building with built-in electric charging, it’s an impractical purchase as any family’s primary mode of transportation.
That being said, electric vehicles are slowly getting better ranges, slowly coming down in price, and slowly warming the hearts of skeptics. Eventually, people who buy new gas-guzzling rides will be laughed out of electric-charging-station-riddled parking spots. Like people who still own fliphones. Relics of the past now.
That day will come, but it’s far away.
For now, most people will continue to buy gas cars, as they have for more than a century. The overwhelming majority consumers buy what meets their needs, not what meets Mother Nature’s needs. Electric vehicles won’t change that, so instead, they need to become a more practical option for consumers than their oil-devouring counterparts.
It’ll happen, like I said—just not today.