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Revealed at last: BMW’s electric future

Power play: The production version of BMW’s i3 electric car slightly plays down the science experiment looks of its concept version.

Production version of BMW’s battery-fuelled i3 city car makes its debut


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30 Jul 2013

BMW’S first-ever electric car is expected to come with a full-size spare when it comes to Australia mid-next year – spare car, that is, not tyre.

The German luxury car-maker today fully revealed its future-driven i3 city car, sporting a four-cylinder petrol engine-rivalling 125kW/250Nm electric motor driving the rear wheels using a bank of lithium-ion batteries hidden away under the floor.

As an alternative, buyers can opt for a range-extended version of the car featuring a 25kW, 600cc three-cylinder motor scooter engine that holds charge in the batteries until the fuel runs out and bumps up the reach to 300km.

The base price of the car in Germany is about the same as a BMW 320i Gran Turismo – that translates to about $70,000 in Australian money – although the range-extended version adds an extra $6500 to the German buyers’ price.

BMW has high hopes for this car, with production expected to reach 30,000 units a year in a worldwide market for electric vehicles that is expected to reach 150,000 sales this year alone.

“What the mobile phone did for communication, electric mobility will do for individual mobility,” Norbert Reithofer, the chairman of BMW’s board of management, said at the i3’s New York launch.

The i3 is also shaping up as the first BMW model in Australia to sell online rather than in a traditional showroom, although BMW Australia product communication manager Scott Croaker said it would sell through traditional dealerships before being considered for web-based versions.

“In some markets ... their sales channels are set up to offer it for online purchase, not including Australia,” Mr Croaker said.

“We’re going to follow the traditional sales process for the sales funnel. That’s not to say at some stage in the future we won’t adopt the online channel, but as the first step it will be following the same, normal traditional sales process.

However, Mr Croaker said BMW’s Australian arm had considered how potential i3 owners would use their cars, and stumping up a temporary loan vehicle with a traditional internal combustion engine for the likes of family holidays would be part of the package.

“One of the things that they did with the BMW i3 is what they call `360 Electric’. It’s what are all of the obstacles facing electric cars at this stage from a consumer’s point of view, and what are the things we can put in place to overcome these obstacles” he said.

“That includes those family holidays and trips, and what do we do if we buy an EV.

“Part of the solution to those sorts of problems was a program which provides each EV customer with the use of a gasoline or diesel-powered car for a period of time for so many times a year.

“They’re the solutions we’re certainly looking at, but how that looks in our marketplace and what form that will take are yet to be finally decided.”

Mr Croaker said the electric-only vehicle’s range of between 130 and 160 kilometres – described by BMW’s German head office as “generally quite sufficient” – meant it was still on the cards for Australia to sell alongside the range-extended version.

Looking like a slightly stretched version of the i3 Concept Coupe unveiled in March, the production version of the i3 unveiled overnight is a little less of a science experiment than the concept car unveiled earlier this year.

The i3 has kept the signature BMW kidney grille, although this time around they are a cosmetic addition rather than needed to feed air to a traditionally front-mounted powerplant.

The production car, sitting on skinny 19-inch alloys pushed to each corner of the car, keeps the blacked-out bonnet and the big dip in the rear window that provides more light to the back seats.

However, what is new is that the four-seat version includes a pair of rear coach doors the result of the radical design of the i3.

The production car includes seats with skinny backs that yield more rear-seat legroom than conventional pews. However, BMW is yet to release figures showing how the interior’s clever packaging stacks up against conventionally engined competitors.

The car’s passenger cell is made from carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, making a lightweight, rigid structure that engineers have deemed does not need the central pillar used on conventional cars. However, the i3 still weighs 1195kg – about 200kg more than a Volkswagen Up city car.

Apart from that, the design of the U-shaped headlights has altered slightly, and the slash-like fog-lights have made way for more conservative rounded ones.

With the 250Nm of torque available almost as soon as the i3 starts rolling, the poke under the boot from the rear-mounted electric motor is enough to push the i3 from 0-100 in 7.2secs, making it faster at stepping off than a Mazda6. The 0-60km/h jump from the traffic lights is dispatched in just shy of 4.0secs.

BMW says the i3’s top speed is limited to 150km/h “for efficiency reasons”.

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