BMW i3
BMW's i3 electric compact has an aluminium chassis and incorporates lightweight carbon-fibre materials to boost performance.

BMW has unveiled its first electric car, the i3 supermini, at simultaneous launches in New York, London and Beijing.

The car has an aluminium chassis and is built with ultra-light carbon-fibre materials to improve performance. It will go from zero to 100kph (62mph) in 7.2 seconds.

Speaking at the New York event, BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer described the i3 as a "great leap forward", saying the model was "born electric".

"Innovation drives change. The i3 is more than just a car. It's a revolutionary step towards sustainable mobility. It is purpose-built around an electric power train to serve the needs of our megacity customers," said Reithofer.

The electric vehicle will be capable of going a distance of 80-100 miles, while models with a range-extender gas engine will be able to travel double that distance before needing to recharge.

The company said the i3's running costs were about 40% lower than comparable cars that run on petrol. At 1,195kg, the i3 weighed less than most compact vehicles, yet offered space for four occupants and significantly more leg-room, the German manufacturer said.

The car's top speed was limited to 100mph for efficiency reasons.

'New benchmark for sustainability'

In Beijing, BMW chief financial officer Friedrich Eichiner said the i3 "sets a new benchmark for sustainable mobility" in development and production, and new standards in lightweight construction.

Built in Leipzig, Germany, the i3 goes on sale in European markets in November, and will be available in the US, Japan and China next year. Prices start at £25,680 for the standard model and £28,830 for the Range Extender version.

The car manufacturer said it saw great scope for growth in the electric vehicle market. A total 150,000 sales of electronic vehicles are forecast worldwide for the current year, up from 93,000 last year.

In 2012 BMW Group, which employs 105,876 workers, sold about 1.85 million cars and more than 117,000 motorcycles worldwide.

All UK i3 models will come with AC Fast Charging as standard, allowing the car's battery to be charged from zero to 80% full in three hours. Charging via a domestic socket takes eight to ten hours.

The next car to be added to BMW's i range will be the i8 supercar, which boasts a plug-in hybrid power train and will go on sale in spring 2014.