Costly gamble or in tune with the public mood? BMW is set to launch its first all-electric car, hoping to stir demand for a pricey luxury model just as some other makers hit hurdles in selling electric propulsion.
The Munich, Germany-based maker of premium models including the flagship 74,200 euro 7-Series, will on Monday take the wraps off its i3 electric hatchback in a series of glitzy events in London, New York and Beijing.
It is a promotion that underscores the seriousness of BMW's long-term ambitions.
"We're at the dawn of this electric era," sales chief Ian Robertson said during a test drive outside Munich on July 15.
Coming after an estimated $2.7 billion investment programme, the i3 launch is a milestone for the world's biggest luxury carmaker as well as the electric car fraternity.
"This is a significant move for BMW," said Lincoln Merrihew, vice president of transportation at market researchers Millward Brown Digital. "They're launching a new brand in a new segment with new vehicles ... And they're going all in."
Yet consumers remain sceptical about electric vehicles due to their cost - the i3 will start at 34,950 euros, a fifth above the base version of BMW's best-selling 3-Series - and concerns about their driving range.
Market leader Nissan, Toyota, General Motors and VW's Audi have trimmed electric-car plans or have had to offer aggressive pricing to spur their middling sales.
Specialist makers have also borne the brunt of slack demand, with Fisker Automotive Inc and Coda Automotive both having filed for bankruptcy, along with charging network firm Better Place.
But there are signs too that electric cars are winning adherents, albeit from a low base.
Ten-year old Tesla Motors Inc delivered nearly 5,000 of its Model S - priced at $70,000 before a US Federal tax credit - in the first quarter, helping it to its first-ever quarterly profit. Its shares have quadrupled in value this year.