Peter Anderson | Jul 30, 2012

The first two cars in BMW's new i range, the electric i3 city car and hybrid i8 coupe, will be offered for sale not only in dealerships, but also on the internet.

BMW says that if all goes well, the online retail project could expand to include models in the brand's regular line-up.

The carmaker isn't the first to try the online approach - eBay has taken a swing at it, and Subaru's small Australian allocation of BRZ coupes sold out within hours, almost entirely online.

BMW is taking the concept of Audi's City retail experience one step further, allowing customers to simply spec and purchase their car without leaving the home, completely eliminating the middleman.

BMW's first i Store is already open in London, showcasing the two-car range and the accessories that go with them. There are more on the way.

For any brand, one obvious advantage in the online realm is the huge savings for the company: an online showroom has no need for floorspace, a sales team, or nice cologne. (Until smello-technology arrives, at least... - Ed)

“We clearly, as a company, go into any product launch with the view of making a profit, which is no different with the i brand,” BMW's marketing chief Ian Robertson told Bloomberg.

“This is a car line just as every other car line, and we intend to make profit from day one.”

Ferdinand Dudenhoffer of the Centre of Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen said that the cost of distribution via the internet is halved, translating to a 5-7 percent discount for the buyer.

Don't expect offline BMW showrooms to disappear all together: most buyers will still want to test-drive their pricey new prestige car.

Despite the online initiative, Robertson said last month that traditional dealerships are "the backbone of what we are doing in the interface with the customer".

The company could also face challenges in countries such as the US, where some states' anti-trust laws require carmakers and dealer networks to remain independent of each other.

When will we see BMW dealerships spring up online? The brand-new electric i3 city car will launch in 2013, so stay tuned.

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