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Power play: Mini E represents BMW's first foray into the electric car world.

BMW will release about 500 electric Mini test cars in the USA from November

21 Oct 2008

BMW is rolling out around 500 specially-modified electric vehicles based on the current-generation R56 Mini.

Dubbed ‘Mini E’, the small EV will be one of the first automotive applications of lithium-ion battery technology.

The two-seater three-door zero-emissions hatchback will be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November before being leased to select public and corporate customers in California, New York and New Jersey.

BMW will not disclose how much the Mini E costs, or the sum of the 12-month lease per vehicle (with an extension plan available). Nor are there plans to bring any to Australia, although a number of European countries are also being earmarked for the Mini E experiment.

“We will sit and wait – if it does become available as a series production car then we will have to consider it for the Australian market,” said BMW product communications manager Tim James. “It’s still in the concept stage. A lot of information has not yet been released.” BMW believes it will be the world’s first manufacturer of premium vehicles to offer an all-electric vehicle. All 500 or so examples will be built by year’s end at the Mini’s regular site in Oxford in England, with the electric drivetrain produced in Germany.

Power comes from a 150kW electric motor mounted transversely at the front, producing peak torque of 220Nm from standstill and driving the front wheels as per regular models but via a single-stage helical gearbox instead of the usual manual or torque-converter automatic gearbox.

39 center imageBMW claims the Mini E will zip almost silently to 100km/h in 8.5 seconds, and is limited to a top speed of 152km/h.

In place of the rear seats is a high-performance lithium-ion battery, giving the Mini E a range of more than 240km. The battery has a storage capacity of 35kWh and it transmits energy to the electric motor as direct current at a nominal 380 volts.

The battery can be recharged using a standard household power outlet and consists of 5088 cells grouped into 48 modules, which are packaged into three battery elements, taking up most of the back-seat area. BMW hints that series-production electric Minis will probably reclaim their back seats.

Charging takes around 2.5 hours using the standard ‘wallbox’ that can be plugged into a garage and ups the amperage for fast top-ups BMW will provide one with every Mini E, as amperage and voltage from the grid can vary wildly, thus increasing charge times.

A full recharge draws up to 28kWh of electricity. Based on the car’s range, a kiloWatt-hour translates into 8.7km.

Energy can also be recuperated under deceleration thanks to a type of regenerative braking system, feeding the recovered kinetic energy back into the battery and thus extending the Mini E’s range by up to 20 per cent. Up to 75 per cent of all deceleration can be done without once touching the brakes, according to BMW.

As a result of that heavy battery pack in place of the rear seats, the 1465kg Mini E weighs around 400kg more than the Cooper 1.6 petrol manual.

Nevertheless, and despite the resulting different weight distribution properties this brings, BMW claims that changes to the suspension and the dynamic stability control program take the altered mass into account. The brakes, electric power steering and air-conditioner’s electric compressor have also been modified or boosted compared with the items found in regular Minis.

With regular Mini dealers not equipped to deal with any potential problems or servicing issues, specially trained engineers will be available to assess the electric vehicles, while service intervals are pegged at every 5000km or six months. All costs are factored in the monthly leasing instalments.

All Mini Es feature metallic dark silver body panels contrasted by a lighter silver roof, and with ‘Interchange Yellow’ detailing in the form of a stylised power plug plastered on top, in the front and rear, on the ‘charger port’ lid, and as part of the roof edges, exterior mirror housings, seat seams, and dashboard trim, among other places.

The petrol version’s stand-alone tachometer is ditched for a battery level indicator, while the central gauge includes an LED display for power consumption and energy recuperation.

BMW said it wanted to make zero-emissions vehicles as fun to drive as those with a conventional internal combustion engine.

With the 500-odd examples leased to the public (who must have access to a lockable garage), BMW is also seeking to capture real-world ownership and driving experiences, as well as valuable know-how, in order to implement future mass-production zero-emission models.

As reported last week, the Mini E is part of BMW’s Project-i series of future mobility innovations and solutions, which may eventually lead to a fourth brand for the Bavarian outfit.

“What we’re doing now, in many respects, is an experiment of the research program … to really see what the practicalities of running an electric car is – and it really is only electric,” said BMW Group board member Ian Robertson.

“It drives like a Mini, but it doesn’t sound like a Mini – it doesn’t sound like anything. Which is one of the issues.

“What we want to see is how practical it is how it is used in terms of charging – do you need to charge it in your garage, or work do you need national car parks to have charging facilities... right the way through to showing all the elements relating to living with the car.” Mr Robertson also said he hoped cars like the Mini E will force governments to make positive infrastructure decisions.

“If the car industry moves further down this road, then there are infrastructure issues, and infrastructure means long-term investments by governments into how you generate power,” he said.

“There are loads of things... we want to analyse in a research-orientated way, as well as gain experience from producing electric power.”

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