Sunday, November 13, 2011

BMW i3 "Special Sneak Peek" in NYC

I was invited to attend what BMW called the "Special Sneak Peek Event" for the BMW i3 & i8 on November 9th in New York City. It was the first time BMW has shown these two cars in North America. Later this month they will make their formal NA debuts at the LA Auto Show and this event was set up so journalists can get some information, interviews and pictures in advance of the show. There was well less than 100 people in total in attendance, including the BMW representatives, so even though it was a small space we all had easy access to get up close with the cars. In addition to the i3 & i8, there was an ActiveE, although I think I was just about the only person interested in looking at it. Next to the bold concept i3 & i8, the ActiveE looked very pedestrian.
Richard Kim discusses the exterior design of the i3
After about an hour long photo session, there were presentations by Richard Kim, exterior designer of the i3 & i8, and Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy for BMW. Kim talked about how the designs for both cars were conceived, and how he and his team really started with a clean slate when they began the process. They even worked out of a new office that wasn't even in the same building as the other BMW employees and kind of isolated themselves so their thoughts and ideas for these two ground-breaking vehicles could be pure. Steinberg then spoke about how the extensive use of CFRP & aluminum will make the i3 extremely lightweight and efficient and how the LifeDrive architecture that these cars employ is revolutionary and allows for more efficient cars and lower assembly cost.  LifeDrive is basically a return of the body-on-frame design that consists of two components: the Life Cell and the Drive Module. These two components combine to form the vehicle, with the life cell secured to the drive module with remarkably only four bolts and glue.

After the presentation, we had an opportunity to talk individually with both men and get some more photos. The whole event lasted for about three hours and since there wasn't a lot of people there everyone had the opportunity to talk with Kim & Steinberg if they wanted to. Being in the MINI-E program for the past two and a half years it was really rewarding to see the i3 for the first time in person. A lot of the feedback that I and the other MINI-E pioneers have given BMW has gone into shaping the car, both aesthetically and mechanically. BMW has been criticized by some for not selling an EV yet, only leasing the MINI-E and ActiveE to a relatively small group of people in special lease only programs. It's been called anything from greenwashing to a California CARB credit grab. I don't doubt the CARB credits were a part of why these programs exist, and BMW has never denied it. However anyone that thinks or writes that BMW isn't committed to e-mobility and sustainable automobile manufacturing is either blind or has some sort of an agenda against them. Being first to market isn't BMW's plan for electric vehicles, being the best when to arrive is. In 2013 the BMW i3 will be the first fully electric BMW ever sold, and from everything I've seen about this car so far, and I've seen much more than most, I think they are on target to achieve their goal. If they can manage to keep this car at a reasonably price ($40 to $45k), then I think they are going to sell very well.

I was asked by GreenCarReports & PlugInCars to cover this event. You can read my reviews at these links:


  1. Hi Tom, Jeff U here, great report!

    This is a beautiful concept car. I can't wait to see it at the L.A. Auto Show next week.

    Sadly, as we know, the actual production cars turns out to a lot different once they need to past U.S. safety regulations a long with company manufacturing and engineering restraints.

    I don't think a car without a "B" pillar has past NHSTA crash tests for decades.

    If BMW can sell this car for under $45K and It specs out a little better, I'm there.

    Funny how this copies the old GM EV1 design in the materials used, assembly and futuristic body and engineering design reach. (The EV1 was made with all composites, aluminum, titanium and magnesium with few bolts and lot of glue.) GM dropped the composite body panel idea for there cars because it adds way too much cost to the car. Let's see if BMW can break that cost barrier or try to pass it on to customers.

    Jeff U'Ren

  2. I love the lines. I'm definitely thinking about this as my first EV. I'm thinking I'll be looking in 2014 to replace my current car and this will be out for a year by then so I'll have plenty of reviews and feedback from owners.
    I like the volt also, but not in it's current hybrid form. If they took out the useless gas motor and all the crap that goes with it and doubled the battery they would have a great EV. Hopefully GM has that in mind for the future when battery priced come down.
    This i3 looks superior in efficiency though, and will be faster as well. If they keep it around what is being rumored - $42,000 or so then I agree it will be a huge hit.
    Thanks for the info Tom, I've followed your mini-e blog for a while now, it's a great EV resource

  3. I hope they managed to keep the car the same Or at least close to as it looks now. Sure there will have to be less glass but it really looks great as is especially minus the b-pillar. That's really opens up accessibility to the cabin

  4. Jeff: I have good reason to believe the production model will be VERY similar to this. Obviously no glass doors or roof, they will be CFRP. The production model will not have a B-pillar either. Look at the picture of the CFRP life cell above. That's the one that will be used in the production i3 - no b-pillar.
    I spoke to a BMW rep at this event at great length about body integrity and also asked about how to repair the CFRP that has been damaged.
    He said they simply cut out the damaged section and replace it with a new piece and it gets glued together using the same glue that they use to originally assemble the car and it is as strong as new. He also assured me it wouldn't be very expensive to repair them either. BMW has done their own internal crash tests and are confident it will not only pass the NHSTA testing, but score exceptionally well. I have some pictures of the frame after crash testing if you would like me to send them to you.

    Jeff, we can talk for days about the EV-1. It was a fantastic car. Can you imagine what GM would have now if they kept building and improving them? It pains me to think about how much time and money was wasted because they just wouldn't keep the program alive. We would probably be talking generation 4 of the project (EV-4?) by now and tens of thousands of them would be on the roads, even if they were expensive.

  5. Looks great. Hopefully the production model won't stray too far from this and is priced near $40,000

  6. Argosh: I have no inside information, but my guess is $42,500. That way it's $35,000 after the $7,500 federal tax refund here in the US