BMW Concept ActiveE – Click above for high-res image gallery

Earlier today, BMW announced where in the U.S. it would test the ActiveE electric car. But, while we got the names of the places, we didn't get a lot more information about the program itself. So, we asked Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy for BMW of North America (pictured), for some answers. He was able to give us a few, and hinted at others, but we'll just have to keep waiting for the full details until BMW thinks its time to share. One place to keep an eye on? BMW's ActiveE website, where people can sign up for more information and, somehow, let BMW know you'd like to be one of the few to get to lease the ActiveE.

The reason BMW chose the cities that it did for the ActiveE is, in part, because it has partners there who will work to get the infrastructure in place. As Steinberg put it, "We are working with the willing." The other reasons are that BMW will have limited availability of these cars and thinks that these cities are where the consumers who are most interested in electric vehicles live. There are some discussions going on within BMW about other markets for the ActiveE (Germany, anyone?), but nothing has been decided yet. (This post continues after the jump.)

Anyone who has been following BMW's electrification efforts knows that the ActiveE trials grew out of the Mini E test leases. The big difference between the two is that while the Mini Es were used to learn how people lived with their electric cars, the ActiveE tests will be more about what's moving the vehicle. "We'll really be able to shake down the technology in the ActiveE," Steinberg said. The powertrain is different than what was used in the Mini Es and is what will eventually be used in the Megacity EV, which is coming in 2013.

What will be the same is that the ActiveE will only be available through a lease, and will not be sold. The Mini E leases were for one year long, with drivers given the option to extend that for a second year. Steinberg said that anyone who extended their lease will be at the top of the list for an ActiveE, but if you had a Mini E for a year then canceled it, you probably won't get much of a let up on your ActiveE application. The length of the ActiveE leases has not yet been decided, Steinberg said, adding that, "we're discussing longer terms [than one year]."

BMW ActiveE concept – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Mini E program had 450 units, and all Steinberg would say about the ActiveE program is that there will be more of the electric 1 Series in the upcoming program than there were in the Mini one. Probably. It's up to the press guys to decide when to announce the numbers, he said, and "you can make the assumption that that is correct [that the numbers have already been decided."

The big question, though, is why would anyone pay BMW to test an electric vehicle when they could just go and buy a Nissan Leaf or a Coda Sedan or a plug-in hybrid like the Chevrolet Volt, all of which will be available before the ActiveE trial even starts? Steinberg said, "In our case, we're still in Phase 2 of Project i, rather than in the serial production phase. We'll hit the market in 2013 and we're comfortable with that timeline." The big difference, he said, is that BMW will have a premium solution to the electric mobility question, and he thinks that's an appealing reason to wait.

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