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Shop for your car online with BMW

BMW is introducing car shopping from the couch. To cut costs on its expensive new line of plug-in cars next year, the German automaker will sell the vehicles directly from a virtual showroom.

By Antony IngramGuest blogger / July 31, 2012

A Palestinian woman watches as her husband (L) sits inside a BMW for sale at a car dealership in the West Bank city of Ramallah in this March 2012 file photo. Starting next year, the German automaker will sell its new line of plug-in cars online to cut back on overhead costs.

Ammar Awad/Reuters/File

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If you're selling a futuristic vehicle, why not sell it using futuristic means?

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That's the strategy BMW is looking to take with its i3 and i8 plug-in cars, when both go on sale in Europe in a few years time.

The German automaker may well have just opened a specialised showroom for the cars in London, but as a way of reducing overheads on already-expensive cars, BMW plans to sell the i3 and i8 over the internet.

Selling cars over the internet is nothing new, but according to Bloomberg, BMW will be selling vehicles directly, rather than through dealer channels.

The internet orders will be backed up by a roaming sales force and a limited showroom network, presumably just enough to ensure that buyers can have test-drives and speak to experts without the expense of rolling the product out across its whole network.

The strategy has parallels with how Tesla is selling the Model S electric sedan, dodging traditional dealerships in favor of dedicated Tesla stores, where the sales experience is more personal.

The i3 electric city car and i8 plug-in hybrid supercar will both be relatively low volume vehicles, and with development costs of around $3 billion, BMW is looking to reduce costs in other areas.

BMW's Park Lane 'i' showroom in London is indicative of the kind of environments BMW will concentrate on, with sales expected to be focused in the world's major urban areas. 'i' models will go to dealerships, but the automaker is choosing dealers with the highest sales volume, largest sales space and enough capacity to work with alternative-fuel vehicles.

Even so, sales are unlikely to be high. Research company IHS Global Insight expects BMW to sell just over 31,000 i3s worldwide in 2014, compared to over half a million 3-Series. That does mean the i3 would outsell the Z4 sports car, however.

And BMW isn't expecting to make a loss, either. BMW is one of the world's most profitable car companies, and that's unlikely to change.

BMW sales chief Ian Robertson explains, "This is a car line just as every other car line, and we intend to make profit from Day 1."

Even if online sales take off in Europe, don't expect it to cross over to the U.S. In most U.S. states, automakers cannot sell a car directly to the consumer, and instead have to sell through an independently-owned business like a car dealer.

When the i3 and i8 hit the U.S, you might just see them on the forecourt with everything else--not that futuristic, after all.

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