The Tesla vs. New York Times controversy has finally left the news cycle, forgotten in less time than it takes a Model S to juice up at a Supercharger station. Meanwhile, BMW is ready to introduce its new range of “i” vehicles, which will conveniently dodge the whole question of range anxiety.
Select European outlets were invited for ride-alongs in BMW’s new i3 city car and i8 supercar. The impressions gleaned from ride-alongs are generally next to worthless, but the technology being used by BMW is worth examining. Rather than a pure EV, BMW will be adopting a three-pronged approach – a pure EV, a range extender and a plug-in hybrid.
The i3, a small hatchback meant for urban driving, will adopt the BMW ActiveE’s drivetrain, with an electric motor mounted in the rear, making 168 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Maximum range is said to be 140 miles, though 80-100 miles is a more realistic figure according to BMW. The i3 will be slightly bigger than a Mini Cooper, but will weigh just 2750 lbs and git 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. And unlike the Mini, it’s rear-drive.
But the most interesting aspect of the i3 is the range extender option. Unlike the plug-in hybrid option on the i8 supercar (which uses a three-cylinder turbocharged engine and an electric motor to power the wheels), the range extender in the i3 is strictly used to help maintain the battery’s charge if it falls below a predetermined level. It does not power the drive wheels under any circumstances. The 650cc parallel-twin could help increase the i3’s range to as much as 200 miles according to BMW, though specifics were scant.
As much as pure EV enthusiasts may scoff at the idea of any carbon-emitting technology sullying the zero-emissions dream, range extender technology could become prominent as a means of expanding the viability of electric vehicles. Small motorcycle engines (like the i3) and even rotary engines are being floated as possible solutions, while other more radical possibilities are being researched right now. Serenergy, a Danish firm, makes a fuel cell system based on methanol that could be adopted for this purpose. While methanol fell out of vogue in the 90s, the prospect of creating it from sources like solid waste has helped revive interest in methanol as a biofuel. On a broader scale, range extenders could alleviate one of the main psychological deterrents to EV adoption – the fear of running out of juice, rendering you totally stranded – by offering a reliable fail-safe in case of battery depletion. And if it’s a rear engine, rear drive compact, all the better for those of us who still enjoy the act of driving.