Sometimes in our line of work, we hear something which just seems either too good to be true, or simply too bizarre to be believed. And when we hear a piece of news which fits either category on April 1, we hope you’ll forgive us for not rushing to our keyboards and committing it to virtual print before we triple-check our facts first.
So when we heard last Wednesday that Japanese customers of Amazon could now order themselves a full-size BMW i3 electric via the online shopping portal, we have to admit we passed it off as a very clever April Fools’ Day prank.
It turns out that fact, sometimes, is stranger than fiction. In Japan, Amazon sells electric cars.
As this page confirms — and BMW Japan confirmed to Yahoo — customers of Amazon.co.jp can now log into their favorite online shopping portal and order a BMW i3 electric car or BMW i3 REx Range-Extended electric car alongside their computer games, household goods and e-Books.
Our friends at GreenCarReports — who were also initially suspicious of the story — note that Japan’s auto industry doesn’t have the same restrictive measures in place that prohibit direct-to-customer sales that many U.S. states have. This makes it possible for the German automaker to take advantage of Japan’s forward-thinking, computer-connected culture to sell cars online.
To date, BMW has 46 dealers in Japan which are already selling the i3 and i3 REx through traditional methods, where customers can go and test-drive a car before making a purchase decision. But for those who hate the hassle of going to a dealership — or simply find the process of buying a car and interacting with a pushy salesperson too much — this online sales method is a breath of fresh air.
On the specially-constructed Amazon product page for the BMW i3, customers can find out more about the car, watch presentational videos describing the car’s key features, and even chat to someone online or over the telephone for more information. For those who know what they want, there’s an option to buy either the i3 or i3 REx outright, or take out a five year (60-month) lease agreement on a car.
Like the BMW i3 in other parts of the world, the i3 and i3 REx come as standard with 6.6 kilowatts of on-board charging as well as DC quick charge capability. Because the CHAdeMO DC quick charging standard is the accepted quick charging standard in Japan however, Japanese-market i3s come with the CHAdeMO DC quick charge socket located where the conventional charge ports are on non-Japanese market models, with the standard ‘slow’ charging port hidden under the car’s hood behind the front trunk.
Online ordering sounds like a dream, but don’t think that the buying process is as simple as adding any other Amazon-available item to your shopping basket however: after committing to buying a car, customers have to wait for a telephone call from BMW Japan to confirm they’re happy with their purchase decision. Then, as with all new car sales in Japan, potential owners have to prove that they have somewhere to park their car overnight and have access to a suitable charging station before the purchase is completed.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that a plug-in car has been sold or promoted online, although we think this is the first time we’ve seen the entire car-buying process virtualised. In addition to Tesla — which conducts its ordering process online — both Nissan and Chevrolet used online pre-ordering systems back in 2010 to gauge interest in their then respective plug-in cars, the 2011 Nissan LEAF and 2011 Chevrolet Volt. We note however that in both cases, the online reservation system was simply designed to allocate customers a place in the waiting list to order a car through traditional methods after a test-drive.
Given how much we — and we’re sure many other people — hate dealing with traditional auto dealers however, we’re hoping that Amazon and BMW expands this unique approach to ordering an electric car to other markets.
There’s just one question: do Amazon Prime Members get free delivery? Enquiring minds want to know.
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