Given the rumoured £1.5 billion R&D spend and near four years of marketing of the whole BMW i concept, you could perhaps forgive the company executives launching the BMW i3 today a bit of hyperbole.

“This really is a moment where we shape history,” said one. “This is more than just a car, it is a revolution,” said another. “The car as we know it has been around 130 years and today marks a shift to a new era,” added one more, as the car was simultaneously launched in London, New York and Beijing.

Is it? Will it? Really?

Sat on a revolving chair in an office, shut off from the world and the global issues attached to the electrification of cars, it would be pretty foolish of me to dispute the top brass and their hard-working masterminds at a car giant like BMW. But is the i3’s launch today as significant as they claim?

After all, this is a car that not even its makers will tell us the planned sales figures for, less any shortcoming damn the project with the tag of being a failure. All we know is that the company expects to take a “significant share” of the estimated 160,000 electrified vehicle sales this year. Quite what this means in real numbers nobody is saying, beyond the firm assertion that the project will be “profitable” from day one.

But even BMW admits that profitable can be spun; the money poured in to carbonfibre technology, for instance, can be spread across all manner of future projects, as the material gets more widely used in BMW’s range. Likewise the electric motor technology, which is destined for a wide range of vehicles, including an upcoming electric scooter confirmed today. In other words, the numbers can be maneuvered to tell a story.

My belief is that the BMW i3 won’t be remembered as a car that changed automotive history, but that it will play a significant part in it. It’s not the first mass-produced electric car on sale, nor ground-breaking in any single technology, but the sum of its parts do add up to something quite special and, yes, quite desirable. And (Nissan Leaf fans look away now) that’s not necessarily something we’ve been able to say before. On those terms, the i3 really is particularly noteworthy. 

Fact is, electrified cars are coming. Emissions targets, government pressure and so on are all adding up to making it an inevitability. Big cities (or megacities as BMW likes to call them) will be where the movement starts, because that’s where the biggest benefits can be enjoyed. And that’s exactly the natural habitat of the i3. 

Hyperbole or not, BMW’s bigwigs can go to bed tonight certain that they have stolen a march on their opposition. I suspect it’s a question of how long their bold step will take to pay back, as opposed to whether it will. But I also suspect many of Autocar’s notoriously electric-sceptic commentors may disagree…