BMW Follows Electric Car Trend With Its Megacity Vehicle

Last Updated Jul 2, 2010 11:27 AM EDT

BMW (BAMXY.PK) has put a face to the name of its so-called Megacity Vehicle, the first BMW designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle.

Strategically, an EV represents a different direction for BMW, which has sunk a lot of resources over the years into hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines, unlike just about every other automaker, except Mazda (MZDAF.PK). In a larger sense, the BMW electric vehicle is also a symbol that German automakers "get it." Consumers equate electric vehicles and hybrids with "green" values, and any car company that doesn't go along starts to suffer image-wise.

It would be more convenient, not to mention cheaper, for German automakers if consumers -- especially American ones -- accepted clean-burning diesel engines as higher-mileage alternatives to hybrids and EVs. But that seems unlikely, to put it nicely.

In the meantime, Japanese rivals are stealing the spotlight and building a greener-than-thou image. Nissan (NSANF.PK), for instance, will launch the battery powered Nissan Leaf this year, about three years ahead of BMW.

That's not to say the Megacity Vehicle is a thrown-together solution. By the time the MCV arrives on the market around 2013, BMW will have experimented for about four years with test fleets of existing models retrofitted with battery powered motors.

What's radically different about the Megacity Vehicle, which BMW calls MCV for short, is that it makes extensive use of a new material, carbon fiber reinforced plastic, to reduce weight and improve range.

BMW introduced a battery powered Mini Cooper last year, which ordinary drivers can lease. A battery powered BMW 1-Series, which the company calls the BMW Concept ActiveE, will be introduced in the spring of 2011.

So BMW won't be first, or even second or third, out of the box with an electric vehicle, but you'd like to think that when it does arrive, the MCV will be thoroughly thought-out, and also fun to drive.

Graphic: BMW