By Jody McCutcheon
Having already entered the luxury electric-car market with its ActiveE and ActiveHybrid models, BMW has now introduced the first two vehicles of its new BMW i brand, the i3 and i8.
First conceived in 2007, Project i is designed around BMW’s eDrive technology and places utmost emphasis on sustainability. The production plant in Leipzig, Germany utilises 100% renewable, wind-generated electricity. The vehicles themselves are constructed in large part from renewable sources and recycled materials, mainly carbon-fibre-reinforced-plastic (CFRP) produced in a Washington plant powered primarily by locally sourced hydroelectricity. CFRP is just as strong as steel but 50% lighter, which is key to performance.
The inaugural BMW i brand vehicle, the i3, was unveiled in July. It’s the first mass-produced electric car, and the ideal urban sedan. A 110lb, 170hp electric motor, powered by a 22kWh lithium-ion battery, offers a 130–160km range of emission-free driving. This range increases in two of the i3’s three driving modes, by about 12% in ECO PRO mode and another 12% in ECO PRO+ mode. The onboard computer can locate public charging stations and plan efficient routes based on traffic conditions and driving style.
The battery recharges in three hours from a 220V outlet, with faster chargers available for purchase. For added reliability, a 650cc, 34hp gas-powered “Range Extender generator” is an option. The generator is activated when battery power falls to a certain level, maintaining the battery’s remaining charge and thereby extending the vehicle’s range.
CFRP and aluminium contribute to a lightweight (2,700lbs) structure, meaning motor and battery both expend less energy in maximising power. The result is 0–48km/h in 3.5 seconds, 0–96km/h in about 7.2 seconds, and an electronically limited top speed of 150km/h.
Some of the i3’s sustainability features include bio-polymer car keys made from castor oil pressed from castor seeds, interior trim made of wood from sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees, leather tanned with olive leaf extract, even a recyclable owner’s manual.
By the time the i3 is released in 2014, it will have been seven years in the making. Given the car’s eco-friendliness and aesthetic appeal, we think it was well worth the wait.