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BMW President on i8 Spyder Concept: The First Green Supercar

Whoever said eco-friendly cars couldn't be fun certainly never told BMW. The company took out all of the stops for the North American debut of its Blade Runner-esque all-electric i3 and plug-in hybrid i8 Sypder concepts in New York City. But it wasn't just the cars that were turning heads. BMW's North America president, Ludwig Willisch (left), took the stage to pull the curtain back on i8 Spyder concept with the help of none other than Academy Award-nominated actress Uma Thurman.

And while the paparazzi were crazy for Thurman, the real stars of the show were the i3 and i8 Spyder. BMW's all-electric i3 is a city car meant to give urban dwellers mobility without the need for gasoline. The i8 Spyder hybrid is designed to be a supercar, albeit with excellent fuel economy.

Origins of the i8

During an interview following the i8 Spyder's unveiling, Willisch explained that BMW developed the i3 concept to handle a "mega city," such as New York. It can transport four people in a comfortably, yet it still has good range--up to 100 miles--by using carbon fiber instead of aluminum for the chassis. The four-door car, 90 percent of which will make it to the road in 2013, will be sold under BMW's i brand.

It was from there that the company decided to create the i8 in order to prove that an environmentally friendly car can pack a powerful punch. A plug-in hybrid with a 1.5-liter three-cylinder 180 kWh turbo-charged engine plus an electric motor in the front, the i8 will have performance rivaling the current BMW M3, yet have gas mileage of 70 to 80 miles per gallon. "That gets you to the super car performance and yet incredible mileage when compared to any other car in that performance level," Willisch said. 

So how much will the i8 Spyder change from the futuristic car on display? Not much, according to Willisch, who explained that the biggest difference will be the addition of two back seats for children or general cargo hauling. 

An Electric Future

While Willisch said the internal combustion engine will continue to play a major role in most cars, vehicles meant for environments such as New York, Los Angeles, and Shanghai will certainly rely on hybrid and electric powertrains."For example, in London you have congestion charges and only electric vehicles can get in there for free. That's coming in many parts of the world and these cars will have an advantage.

"But we clearly wanted to make a statement too that sustainability and electric mobility and the typical virtues of a BMW aren't exclusive," he added. "These cars, both of them, will be very true BMWs in the sense of the word. They will be the ultimate driving machine. They will be huge fun to drive."

While Willisch said he hasn't been able to drive either the i3 or i8 Spyder, he said he is most proud of their combination of the great looks, great performance and the exceptional gas mileage. It's that combination that Willisch said will separate BMW's hybrid and electric vehicles form the competition. "The package will convince people who are looking into sustainable mobility."