At simultaneous events in London, Beijing and New York City, BMW publicly unveiled a new 3. It’s not the latest version of it’s segment defining 3 Series luxury sports sedan, though, it’s the i3, the first electric car from the Bavarian automaker. Comparing the auto industry to the rapid changes in century old telephone industry brought about by the cellphone, BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer said from New York, “The car industry has waited well over a century for its own revolution. Today the wait is over. What the mobile phone did for communication, electric mobility will do for individual mobility.” The i3 is intended to address two issues close to today’s consumers, particularly young consumers about to reach peak earning years, sustainability and connectivity. Reithofer predicted, “We are at the starting-blocks of a new era — the era of sustainable mobility.” He promised that the i3 and other EVs will will do for individual mobility what the mobile phone has done for personal communication. BMW has trademarked i0 through i9, and it is expected that eventually BMW will sell a full line of electrically powered cars. The i8 sports car, concepts of which have been shown in both coupe and roadster formats, will go on sale late next year.
Total investment by BMW in the i subbrand and related technology is estimated to be $2.7 billion, with $796 million (600 million euros) spent on production facilities in Leipzig, Germany and Moses Lake, Washington. The Leipzig final assembly facility has a capacity of 40,000 units a year.
Making and selling cars, whether they run on hydrocarbons or electrons or are connected or don’t even have a radio, is a business. Ian Robertson, BMW’s sales head, made some bold claims about the profitability of the i3, stating
“What we are saying very clearly is that from Day 1 we will make a profit on these vehicles.”
No production figures were projected but Robertson promised that BMW will be a “major player” in the increasingly crowded EV market.
A major part of the i3′s design, besides it’s electric drivetrain, is the use of light and strong carbon fiber, particularly in the passenger safety cell. BMW claims that the i3 will be the world’s first mass produced car using a carbon fiber structure. Toyota used the composite material in the Lexus LFA supercar but only made a few hundred examples. Like Toyota, BMW hopes to gain expertise with carbon fiber that will spread across their vehicle line. Other parts of the i3′s structure are aluminum. The lightweight structure yields exponential benefits because a smaller battery, itself lighter, can be used.
The i3′s green credentials go beyond the fact that it doesn’t run on fossil fuel. BMW’s new dedicated factory in Moses Lake that makes the carbon fiber composite for the body runs on hydroelectric power (as all factories in the Pacific Northwest do) . BMW’s Liepzig plant that will do final assembly is 100% wind powered.
In addition to its environmental sensitivity, BMW says that the i3 will also be true to the brand’s “ultimate driving machine” image, with rear wheel drive, a 50/50 weight distribution and a low center of gravity, helped by the location of the battery pack underneath the passenger compartment.
It’s a five door, rear wheel drive car with the exterior dimensions of BMW’s small 1 Series cars but the interior room of the 3 Series. The rear doors are hinged at the back, “suicide” style. Intended customers are residents of densely populated urban areas. It weighs only 2,700 lbs. The electric motor can generate up to 170 horsepower and torque is rated at 184 lb-ft. A single speed transmission connects the motor to the rear wheels. The battery pack is rated at 22 kWh. Charging time at 220V is said to be three hours, reduced to only 30 minutes using an optional DC fast charger. Zero to 60 MPH is about 7 seconds. Intended for urban use, with an electronically limited (to preserve range) top speed of 93 MPH, it should still be safe to use on interurban highways. Range, helped with regenerative braking, is said to be 80-100 miles with two economy modes, Eco Pro, and Eco Pro+ that can each increase range by 12%.
For those with range anxiety, an range-extender option offers a two-cylinder 650cc 34 HP gasoline engine driving a generator that extends the driving range another 80 miles, on it’s 2.4 gallon tank capacity. The range extended version weigh another 330 lbs. The price of the base i3 in the U.S. will be $42,275 before any government incentives, with the range extended version costing $46,125, both prices including destination charges.
In addition to the range extender option, BMW will assuage buyers’ anxieties, range and otherwise with services unique to the i3 including:
• A battery with an 8-year/100-mile warranty.
• Roadside assistance if the battery loses a charge during a trip.
• A navigation system that shows charging stations.
• House calls for customer test drives and special training for dealers.
• A fee-based loaner vehicle program, arranged by dealers.