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BMW charges i3 with breaking green ground

I spy: BMW says if the i3 doesn’t work out for a given situation, it will open the door to another car.

After a long gestation, BMW's radical i3 EV is almost ready to roll


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10 Jul 2013

BMW’S lightweight, battery-powered i3 city car of the future is just around the corner, and the German car-maker today revealed in-depth details.

Due for full reveal at the Frankfurt motor show in September, the electric hatchback features a racecar-style carbon-fibre shell with suicide rear doors wrapped around four seats, and standing on skinny, low-profile tyres.

It’s due in Australia mid-next year, and is expected to cost about the same as a high-end 3 Series model, or about $70,000.

As well as an all-electric version, the i3 will sell in Europe as a plug-in hybrid, with an optional small petrol engine able to double the range of the car’s batteries – making it the most likely model to suit Australian conditions.

“With the size of our market and the anxieties over range, I’d expect that the range-extended version to be a big proportion of our sales,” BMW Australia product communications manager Scott Croaker said.

“However, we haven’t decided yet if we will sell both (the electric and range-extended) models here.”

The all-electric i3 features a rear-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels, while a bank of lithium-ion batteries is sandwiched under the floor.

The motor generates 125kW of power, or about the same as a 2.0-litre engine, while the 250Nm of torque, about the same as a 2.0-litre diesel engine, is available almost from rest.

The heavy use of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic in the passenger cell cancels out much of the weight of the batteries – the full EV version weighs a comparatively light 1195kg.

However, driving it won’t be like any normal car, BMW suggests. The i3 has what the luxury car-maker calls a “single-pedal control concept”, where the accelerator pedal also doubles as a regenerative brake that converts energy normally lost during braking back into electricity.

“Recuperation mode is activated the moment the driver takes his foot off the accelerator,” BMW said.

“The electric motor switches from drive to generator mode, feeding power into the lithium-ion battery. At the same time, it generates a precisely controllable braking effect.

“This recuperation is speed-sensitive, which means the car `coasts’ with maximum efficiency at high speeds and generates a strong braking effect at low speeds.”

According to BMW the i3 will have a battery-powered range of about 130km, extending to about 160km if driven under ideal conditions. That compares with about 120km for Nissan’s five-seat Leaf electric car.

The i3 also has an economy mode that will add about an extra 20km to the i3’s range, and an eco-plus mode that adds yet another 20km of reach.

The rear-mounted petrol engine – it will slip in alongside the electric motor – is not designed to drive the car. Instead, its 650cc of capacity – about the same as a motorbike – will only generate a meagre 25kW of power, enough to work a generator and stretch the i3’s range to about 300km.

European versions of the i3 will include a mobile phone SIM card that allows the car to connect with the internet and allow owners to, say, check the battery status from their desk at work.

The service will also tie in with the i3’s navigation system, allowing the driver to select the most energy-efficient route home rather than the shortest, or fastest.

Speaking of fast, BMW claims the i3 will sprint from 0-60km/h in 3.7 seconds, while the fuller 0-100km sprint is a much more leisurely 7.2 seconds – about the same as a Mini Cooper S.

BMW claims the i3 aims to ensure that owners only charge their vehicle up to three times a week, with studies showing drivers behind the wheel of a fleet of electric Mini Coopers only drove an average of 45km a day..

Rather than leave i3 owners to fend for themselves, BMW said it would offer recharging packages “designed to meet all individual customer needs for energy supply and journey planning”.

The kicker is, though, that if it does not work for a particular situation, BMW will step in and help owners out.

“If the BMW i3 concept fails to meet mobility requirements in a specific situation, (BMW) provides flexible mobility solutions including alternative vehicles from the BMW and DriveNow ranges,” it said.

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