Saturday, April 19, 2014

BMW i3: Wrapped and Ready


Is it me or does the i3 look especially good in custom designer wraps? Now that the i3 has been available in select European markets for about five months now, pictures are surfacing of i3s with colorful full-body wraps. The i3 will likely be a popular car for businesses to use because of tax incentives and low operating costs. Plus with its funky-unconventional styling it is sure to grab attention, especially with bright, colorful body wraps.


The stock colors available on the i3 aren't very bold, with Solar Orange the only color that really stands out. The rest of the colors are basically grey-scale with a white, two silvers and two greys. I've been thinking of doing something custom to my i3 when I get it, and seeing all these custom wrapped i3s has pushed me to decide to go for it. I've already identified where I'll be getting it done but I'm still on the fence about what color. I'll likely be wrapping my i3 soon after getting it provided I can get the timely appointment.



What color do you think will look best on the i3? Please leave your choice in the comment section below.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Breaking: BMW i3 Wins 2014 World Green Car And World Car Design Of The Year!


Breaking news from InsideEvs.com. The BMW i3 swept both awards it was a finalist for which were 2014 World Green Car And 2014 World Car Design Of The Year. Here's what InsideEVs had to say:

From the shortlist of finalists, a winner in both categories emerged. Here first are the shortlisted automobiles:

World Green Car
- Audi A3 Sportback g-tron (+ Audi e-gas)
- BMW i3
- Volkswagen XL1

World Car Design of the Year
- BMW i3
- Mazda3
- Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The winner, in both categories, is the BMW i3.

So, BMW can now add 2014 World Green Car and 2014 World Car Design of the Year to the list of awards the i3 has racked up.
BMW i3

In regards to the 2014 World Green Car award, BMW’s Dr. Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Sales and Marketing, stated:
“To have the BMW i3 named World Green Car of the Year is a great honor.  From the production process onwards, the BMW i3 is a truly sustainable vehicle, created with the needs of the 21st century city in mind.”
Meanwhile, the World Green Car judges offered this comment:
“Radical in looks, construction, and powertrain, the BMW i3 is one of very few clean-sheet-of-paper cars designed from the ground up for efficiency, with the different needs of the new century’s megacities in mind. From its last-kilometer navigation system to take drivers from car to destination, to the shipped-around-the-world carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic body shell without a B-pillar, the BMW i3 pushes boundaries on many fronts.”
Eligibility for World Green Car is as follows:
To be eligible for the 2014 World Green Car award, a vehicle had to be all-new, or substantially revised, in production and introduced for sale or lease to the public in quantities of at least 10 in at least one major market during the period beginning January 1, 2013 and ending May 31, 2014. Tailpipe emissions, fuel consumption, and use of a major advanced power plant technology (beyond engine componentry), aimed specifically at increasing the vehicle’s environmental responsibility, were all taken into consideration.
Moving on to the World Car Design of the Year award, BMW’s Dr. Ian Robertson commented:
“On behalf of the BMW design team, we are delighted that the BMW i3 has received the World Car Design of the Year award.  Our designers created a car that, through its design and use of sustainable materials, is an expression of the future.”
The design judges posted this statement on the i3′s selection:
“Unlike other BMW cars, the i3 has a boxy shape, which suggests roominess and efficiency. But it still retains BMW’s typical dynamism thanks to the larger diameter wheels and the very short overhangs both on front and rear. Besides that, the i3 expresses the sub-brand’s own character with using unique design features, including the black bonnet and the side window graphics that goes through the rear pillar. The interior is more surprising and attractive. It marks radical leap of car interior design, and it spreads as calm yet rich feeling as a modern living room.”
 About the World Car Awards
Now in their tenth year, the annual World Car Awards are now the number one awards program in the world based on Prime Research’s 2013 report. The awards were inaugurated in 2003, and officially launched in January 2004, to reflect the reality of the global marketplace, as well as to recognize and reward automotive excellence on an international scale. The awards are intended to complement, not compete, with existing national and regional Car of the Year programs.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BMW increases i3 production by 43%


Bloomberg News reported this morning that BMW has raised i3 production an additional 43%. They got that information directly from BMW board member and production chief, Harold Krueger. What that means is instead of the 70 units a day that was previously reported, BMW is now making 100 i3's every day which amounts to around 23,000 units per year. They already have built 5,000 cars in 2014 which works out just about exactly to the 70 units a day that BMW claimed they were making.


This announcement from Krueger comes only a couple weeks after it was revealed that BMW has ordered additional molding machines that make body shell components. The additional equipment obviously hasn't been installed yet so it's likely when it is installed BMW will have the ability to increase production even further. This is all good news for BMW and the EV industry in general, as it continues to demonstrate that there is definitely a healthy demand for electric cars that people find desirable.

Touchy "Door Ajar" Warning Light an Issue With Early i3 Builds

If you already drive an i3, you've probably seen this warning pop up on the dash.
The rear coach doors have been one of the more talked about features of the i3. Most people seem to favor conventionally opening rear doors, especially when they are considering hauling the kiddies around in the back as it can be difficult to open the doors in tight parking spaces.

Surprisingly, the feedback I've gotten from many early i3 owners has been generally positive in regards to coach doors, (or at least there haven't been any complaints!) so perhaps in practice they aren't as cumbersome as many predicted they might be. However there does seem to be a problem that has popped up with regards to them. As soon as the first i3's hit the roads I heard from a few of the first owners that the rear door ajar warning light would come on often during cornering. I didn't report on it since it was only a couple people and there are always minor build issues with new models. I figured BMW would get it sorted out quickly and I wouldn't hear anything more on it.


Close me first!
That doesn't seem to be the case. We are about seven months into production and I've now had more than a dozen i3 owners tell me they experience this regularly if they don't close the rear coach doors very hard - in other words slam it shut. Some of these people have only taken delivery very recently, so they aren't driving some of the first cars off the assembly line. They don't believe it's a safety concern, and the door is not in any danger of opening as it is securely locked. There doesn't appear to be a physical switch in the door jamb, so it would seem the sensor is some kind of magnetic switch inside the door that needs to make contact and is extremely sensitive. So much so that it loses contact when the car is in a tight turn or goes over a bad bump in the road.

This really isn't anything alarming and not completely unexpected. The i3 is a brand new model and BMW is using materials and manufacturing processes they have never employed before. There will likely be some minor issues like this, however it does need to be corrected. As I'm sure many of you can attest it's quite annoying to have one of these warning lights turn on and off all the time, especially at night when the display is brightly illuminated. I'd hate to have to resort to the decades old "black tape over the annoying warning light" solution on my brand new $56,000 urban mobility pod!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is The BMW i3 "Too European" For the US Market?



It's been called edgy, futuristic, polarizing, ground breaking and even flat out hideous. It has funky lines, rear coach (suicide) doors that can't be opened unless the front doors are and rear windows that are permanently closed. The nose has a pronounced "underbite" that any respectful orthodontist would love to correct and the tires are so skinny they look like they should be on something coming out of BMW Motorrad, and certainly not on a proper BMW automobile.

The internet is full of extremely harsh criticism of the i3's exterior styling. However most seem to praise the interior for it's modern, stylish and open feel, especially for such a small car. I don't think I've read a single article where the author didn't at least approve of the interior design, while most gave it very high marks. The term "Scandinavian loft" has been used frequently to describe the modern, open feeling the i3's interior offers.

But then there's the unconventional exterior styling that many people just can't get past. I have to admit, I didn't love it when I first saw it, but I never actually hated it. Then I felt a lot better once I saw it in person and got to drive it. The styling has definitely grown on me and I genuinely like how it looks now.  Others don't fell the same way. In fact, the i3's unique appearance has been discussed ad nauseum since its introduction. Here are a few examples:


On this message board, one person asked the question: Did they try to make it ugly?

Brad Berman of plugincars.com: Did BMW screw up the visual design of i3 electric car?

Perhaps one of the most offensive stories was from The Slate when they wrote: BMW i3 review: Electric car is a cheap, ugly Tesla Model S with an SUV on the side

Would this Citroen be popular in the US?
Then I started thinking about all the criticism and began to wonder if it is mostly driven by American opinions. BMW has consistently maintained the i3 is a "city car". Unlike Europe, city cars just haven't been accepted here yet. The European roads are full of small cars that would certainly appear "unconventional" to American motorists. Take smart for instance. There are smart cars everywhere you look in Europe, yet smart can barely sell a few hundred cars a month in the entire US. Also, many of the cars there look a bit more modern than what you typically find on American roads. Are Europeans just more accepting of new ideas and styling that pushes the limits of acceptability? Is form following function an easier sell to the European car buyer than it is to their American counterpart?

John Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports and one of the industries most respected journalists covering the green car and alternative powertrain scene recently wrote this: 

"I'd agree that the BMW i3 is the best city car yet developed. Which is fine for Europe. The problem is that in North America, virtually no one has ever said, "Honey, we need to go buy a city car!"


Will America warm up to the unconventional BMW i3?
This does make sense but I'd argue that while it is a "city car", it is just as well served for the outlying suburbs of the big cities, making it a great commuter car for the daily grind, while still offering the spirited driving experience many want for the weekend joy ride. Which leads to the next questionable decision BMW made which is likely part of the reason so many people have been critical and that's the range. You can't go too far on that weekend cruise unless you paid the additional $3,850 and got the range extender. The EPA range rating hasn't been announced yet but it's widely expected that the i3's electric range will be officially pegged at about 80 to 85 miles per charge. America's a big country and with gasoline relatively cheap compared to the average price in Europe it's common to drive hundreds of miles at a clip here. I believe if BMW would have increased the i3's range a bit, so the EPA range rating was 100 or more miles, they would have eliminated a lot of the negativity surrounding the car so far. Of course the Europeans would like more range also (who doesn't?). It just seems less important there since they are likely to drive less than we do in the US and some would argue that European customers look at a car purchase more pragmatically in many cases.

BMW CEO Reithofer introduces the i3
Will the "unique" styling and short range conspire to limit the i3's success in the US market? Only time will tell. There will certainly be an initial surge of orders but once they are filled will the i3 continue to attract eco-conscious buyers to the brand. According to BMW, i3 ordering has been robust and they have over 11,000 orders in the bank worldwide. US ordering has just recently begun and the first deliveries are due here in only a few weeks but BMW hasn't said how many of the 11,000 orders have come from American customers.  BMW must be happy with i3 sales so far though because they recently ordered two more Engle molding machines that make i3 body shell components. They are only about six months into production so if they need to buy more production machinery already, that is likely a good sign.

Ready or not America, here i come!
What do you think? Do you like the i3's appearance? Do you hate it or are you in the middle? Will it be more accepted by European customers or will it have universal appeal? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, April 7, 2014

BMW i3 Training Autocross Video



*Hat tip to insideevs.com for finding this first!


BMW has been holding i3 training events to get the new BMW Product Geniuses up to speed on what they need to know about the car. As I have written here many times, there is so much about this car that is completely different than anything BMW has ever sold before that they really need to dive deep into the training of their client advisers and especially these new Product Geniuses. As good as the car is, if they fail to have the ability to properly help the customer decide if the car is right for them, then they won't sell nearly as many as they could have. This is going to have to play itself out before we can gauge if BMW did indeed do everything they could have to give the dealers the tools they need to sell these vehicles.

However in my opinion this video is promising. Not only is BMW holding training sessions where the Product Geniuses will learn about he cars, but they are getting the chance to take once out and do an autocrossing session in one. Plus, in addition to getting to drive in the i3, they also get to drive in a couple i3 competitors, like Chevy Volts and Nissan LEAFs while they are there so they can see how much better the i3 performs.

I assume the above video was taken by one of the Product Geniuses during one of the training sessions and posted on YouTube. It's not a professional quality video by any means, but it does show he was indeed impressed with the i3's performance.  


Thursday, April 3, 2014

BMW i3 REx European Road Trip!


Back in February we featured Steven from The Netherlands as a Born Electric guest blogger. At the time he mentioned to me that he was planning a road trip with his i3 REx that would take him on a fantastic journey from The Netherlands through Germany and France to the final destination of Switzerland. The funny thing is, I almost was able to meet him along the trip because I was actually in Switzerland the week before he arrived and my wife and I even spent an afternoon at the same lake in Zurich you see pictured below! In any event, once I heard Steven was about to engage upon this 1,100 mile road trip I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing the details here once he returns and he was kind enough to do so. I get a lot of questions about the range extender, and many people want to know if it is possible to take it on a long trip. This post doesn't answer every question, but it does give some insight into how the car will perform on sure an extended road trip. I haven't read any story of an i3 doing a road trip over 1,100 miles yet, so this may be the first account of such a journey.


Travelcompanion: i3

OK, so we have this i3. It was, and still is, marketed as a city slicker. The question arises: is BMW underestimating itself ?

To begin with the conclusion: yes and no. It will go outside the city and beyond, with quite an aplomb at that, but its driver needs some commitment and perseverance to get there. As stated by Tom elsewhere: it is not a go anywhere, do anything car. With a normal to brisk driving style, it excels on local trips with perhaps a charge or two along the way. But when taking it easy, tourist style, it can haul you much further than your cities limits.



Once you get used to its unconventional lines the design grows on you.
Our i3 in the Appenzeller mountains.
The commitment starts with a careful planning. Call me a nerd, but I rather like planning a trip in detail, time allowing. However, the limited electric range did cause a little frustration. Frustration about not being able to reach the higher alpine passes in the six days we reserved for this trip. When pushed, we certainly could have done it, but in the end we opted to make the journey itself the goal.

The first hurdle is Europe not being the United States of Europe. Different plugs, different chargecards, you name it. Totally unfunny. Luckily, one of Hollands energy suppliers is owned by RWE, a large German energy supplier, so we could apply for a German charge-ID. You’ll need an app on your iPhone to start the charger, but that’s ok. For France and Switzerland, we’re out of luck. A lot of local/regional initiatives, so charging possibilities are limited to free chargers or, in Switzerland, chargers mounted in parking garages where charging is complementary or at a cost, payable at the checkout machines. And these have to match our Mennekes plug as well.

As you’ll understand, planning took a while, especially while I was not only looking for locations to charge, but also for roads worth driving and places worth visiting while charging. Not much fun to be stuck on an industrial estate for three hours… In the end, I planned our trip so that it would take us three days to reach Switzerland, leaving much of the motorway behind after crossing the Dutch border. Slow tourism, like our parents did with their 2cv, before Europe was shrunk by the proliferation of the Autobahn.

Departure

Smoothly gliding away, to not disturb our neighbours, is uneventful in itself. EcoPro is on, but so is the heat, for it was freezing during the night. Damn, we’ll need those electrons! Well, not entirely, to be truthful, for our first stop is at a 50 KW fast charger. The residual charge doesn’t seem to matter much at the fast chargers’; it’ll charge to 90% in 30 minutes anyway. But there seems to be a catch. We left the charger with ~94%, but the charge dropped right down to 86% in a matter of minutes. Something we have observed more than once after a fast charge. A pity in this case, because the next station should have been reachable with a margin. A margin worth having, for we were able to reach our designated charger with only 5 km (3 mi) on the clock. But hey, it was supposed to be an adventure !

This is the point where I have to admit we are driving the i3 ‘chicken version’, with the little REx in the boot. The upside: unlimited mobility. The downside: REx wakes at 5-6 km, no matter what. So we were at the threshold of failure to do the E-thing, and that only two hours into our journey! But we made it. We had lunch, walked the totally unremarkable town, takin’ it easy as promised, until the car was charged enough to reach our next goal. The ability to use your smartphone to monitor the car is invaluable.

The next goal: Monschau. A quaint little town, picture book stuff. Flocking with tourists of a more advanced age when in season, it is actually very nice when not. Coffee, apfelstrudel, you’ll get my drift how we passed the time.

Chargetourism: Monschau
With enough inside us and in the i3, off to the next charger. A short charging session of 32 minutes at 32 amps in Daun was all it took to take us to our hotel in Bernkastel-Kues. Again a picturesque village, this time with a larger river (the Mosel) and an ancient castle on the adjoining mountain. And the best news: we have entered the wine region, so the i3 was not the only one being replenished :)

At this hotel, we had the first experience of the friendly cooperation we would encounter along the way. We were fully prepared to have to drive the car to a charging station nearby and to walk back, but the hotel owner promptly offered us a spot in his yard where we were able to plug in under the carport. Sweet.


France

Day two took us through Germany to France. Our second hurdle: the designated electrospots in Saarbrücken were occupied by gas-burners! A Zoe was already double parked and charging, but i3’s cable is not long enough to do this. Damn. Now what? Time for friendly cooperation example #2: the receptionist of the adjoining offices came out to ask us if everything was ok, noticing of course it wasn’t because of me standing there with a large blue cable in my hands, looking lost. The solution was easy: one of the owners of the damned vehicles didn’t mind to take a hike, so we could charge, albeit with a little delay. The upside: the German owner of the double parked Zoe turned up, so we had an opportunity for a nice conversation about the future of the world.

Charged and fed, off to France we went. One possibility to charge with no alternatives. Gold or bust! Golden it was. Free of charge as well. Very good of the Cora supermarket to lure crazy dutch electrotourists to their store :) With enough cheese and charge, we took off through the Alsace, an area we always quite enjoy for a lot of reasons.

One of the reasons is that it has some nice drivers’ roads with not to much other people on them. We already enjoyed some nice, but not too quick, driving in the German Eifel yesterday, and the Alsace didn’t disappoint. Nor did the i3, so it is time for some car stuff, for this is supposed to be a car blog last time I checked….

Like!
I like to start with some downsides here, so I can end the paragraph on a positive note. And I will lift a tip of the vail: it is a very positive note. But first: the grind. Although visibility all around isn’t exactly bad, the car is difficult to oversee, so it takes more practice than I’m accustomed to, to position the car in exactly the spot on the  road you want it to be when driving spiritedly. It is growing on me, of course, but it is still not an intuitive process. I guess it has to do something with not seeing any of the nose or any other external part and the overview you miss in tight left hand bends because of the drivers side A pillar. I am still not used to have to look through the side windows to oversee that tight left-hander. Then there is the steering. Once accustomed, it is excellent and precise, but so direct that you’ll have to handle it smoothly if you want to impress your co-driver with your cornering style. And the last grump, which is really a very small niggle: close the rear doors firmly before doin’ the bends, for the warning signal for these is on a hair-trigger. (Tom's note: I have had other i3 owners tell me this also. If you don't close the rear door firmly, the "door ajar" light can light up while you are driving. It's in no danger of opening, it's just an oversensitive trigger than needs to be fully depressed).

Now for the gold: Do we enjoy it when it is going where no i3 has gone before? Oh yes! Yes! It is fast and nimble, which is good in itself, but it is the smooth as cream comfort that is the hammer. The suspension is firm, you already know that, so that is not the unique selling point comfort-wise. It is the easy, creamy-smooth instant power, the effortless recuperation, the relaxed one pedal driving that makes it so enjoyable to drive on your winding Alsacien roads! Take it out, that i3, if you have it, I’ll think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do !

With plenty charge left, we arrived in the quaint Alsacien winemakers’ town to fill up us and the i3 again at the B&B, a winemakers establishment. My advice: go there, drive the roads, drink the wine. Just do it in that order!

Switzerland

Not much to tell about day three, this being a car blog. Only that the leg to Basel was 106 km, mainly motorway, so we kept it between 90-100 (55-60) in the right lane to reach our destination with some electrons to spare, for alternative usable charging stations are sparse around there. With plenty of charge to get us to our next B&B we left sunny Basel and the river Rhine. 40% charge was a luxury I could enjoy for the 10 km (6 mi) drive to and fro from the B&B to the evenings’ restaurant later. This little drive was, besides enjoyable, also a good reminder for me to keep driving carefully during the day to make the most of our E-range, for the battery had only 16% remaining when plugging back in at our B&B at night. Do the math if you like. In our defence, we had the heat on on the way back…
Goal #1: Make it to Zurich using only electric power
Being already very pleased we reached our goal of getting to Zürich fully electric the next day, we set a new goal of reaching at least 1000 km (621 mi) of uninterrupted E-use. After a very enjoyable day in Zürich and at our friends there, totally uninteresting for you i3 enthousiasts, we started drifting in the ‘back’ direction on Saturday afternoon. With one final Swiss charge in St Gallen remaining, we took the i3 through Appenzell. Some mountain roads, not the most spectacular passes, but still sporting brisk climbs once more affirmed our belief that the i3 is a very nice car indeed. It's hard to keep your foot off that throttle :-)).
Goal #2: 1,000 km all electric
Then we reached the dreaded point that was looming in the planning all along. It was not the Swiss border which we passed without ado, it was the point at which the beast in the back had to be awoken. Time for a little car talk intermezzo.

REx

I can understand that a lot of people question the execution of BMW’s REx solution. On the risk of repeating myself: I think they did a wonderful job, for it feels nearly sinful to start the REx after driving on electrons. So smooth. So quiet. So soothing for the conscience. You really get the feeling of doing the wrong thing when firing up ye olde’ ICE. And this is how it should be. It is an electric vehicle extended, mind you! Besides from this, the little bugger does its best to keep you mobile. We here in Europe have it easy, sorry about that American brethren, for we can engage REx at will, so we don’t have to motor through towns and countryside, but we can plan our  REx extension to happen anywhere along the way. The added bonus is of course that you can keep a nice safety cushion in the battery to get it up that Autobahn-slope, although it has to be said I was quite taken with the ability if the REx to keep up the battery when doing 120 (75) on the cruise with A/C to boot. On those not to steep but long slopes (climbing ~250 meters in ~35 km (~820 ft/~22 mi)), the battery level drops a little bit, of course, but I would say that a cushion of around 5% could just about, or just about not, suffice for most journeys. One thing I have noticed is that is seems that the car allows for a bigger battery-drift if you engage the REx earlier. One advantage of this is that it doesn’t have to run at top revs all the time to keep the state of charge on the small marker on your dash-display. Once the state of charge is low, it works very hard to maintain the 5% and prevent very low charge. To end this intermezzo about the REx something on fuel consumption. Exactly economical it is not. Doing 120 (75mph) on cruise gives you something of 15-16 km per litre (35-38 mpg us). Not too bad, not great. Taking 10 km (6 mi/hr) off the speed does wonders to this consumption however, but we kept it at 120 (75) where allowed.
Driving on the Autobahn: Speed kills - consumption rate that is!
A relatively uneventful 628 km (390 mi) later: home. We made a little touristic detour along the Rhine, which we used to recharge a bit during lunch, so we could cruise the 50 km (31 mi) of Rhine-borders in tranquility, and we recharged again at our nearby fast charger to make the last stretch on electricity before parking the car at its homespot with a feeling of well done planner, well done driver, well done little car. It is not perfect, but it is loveable all the way. And it’ll go further if you dare it…
Final stats of the journey
Map of journey




1780 km (1,104 mi), plugging in 16 times during the trip
Approximation of route travelled (source: Google)


Disclaimer - We have undertaken this trip and I have written this article on a strictly personal basis. I am not affiliated to BMW or anyones business mentioned in this story. Please mind that everything you’ve read here are my/our personal experiences and opinions and should be treated as such. Also, bear in mind that the English language is not my native one, so be patient if I’ve made some mistakes or used clumsy language. Any offence is unintentional.

Regards, Steven





A postcard from Steven to summarize his charging efforts along the way!