Tuesday, December 11, 2012

BMW i3 Concept Coupe Revealed

BMW i manager Oliver Walter introduces the concept i3 coupe at the LA Auto Show
BMW surprised a lot of people at the LA Auto Show and introduced a new variation of the i3, a 2 door coupe to compliment the 4 door hatchback that will launch towards the end of 2013. This new coupe is currently only a concept, but if BMW feels enough people would buy this variant, it could easily go into production.

It shares the same drive platform as the 4 door i3, so most of the engineering is already done. All BMW would have to do is make the different passenger cell and attach it to the same drive platform that the 4 door will be using. Now I'm sure it's not exactly that simple, but I am also confident most of the drive platform would be exactly the same.

The i3's life-drive platform
In fact, Oliver Walter referred to the "i3 family of vehicles" when addressing the crowd of ActiveE drivers at the LA Auto Show. I interpreted this as a sign BMW may use the i3's drive platform to make multiple different offerings.  Since the CFRP passenger cell is literally glued to the aluminum frame which houses the entire drivetrain and batteries, it wouldn't seem to be very difficult at all to offer multiple passenger configurations, provided there was a demand for different offerings.


Many of the people I spoke to were very excited about the coupe, even more so than for the 4 door which is going to be the initial i3 offering. While I liked the look of the coupe, Personally I'm more interested in the utility of the 4 door. The access to the rear seating area is so much better with the coach(suicide) doors on the 4 door. Getting in and out as well as loading and unloading cargo from the rear seats will be infinitely easier with the coach doors and I don't think it takes away from the styling at all, especially since there are no outside door handles for the rear doors. I also think another reason why many others were so excited about the coupe was because looked closer to a production car than the four door i3 does. Lets face it, the 4 door concept car is getting a little long in the tooth and people are getting tired of looking at the glass doors and roof. It was introduced about a year and a half ago and other than a different color interior there has been no changes to it. I get a lot of inquiries about when will BMW show us the production version. The concept coupe has a new, refreshed interior that quite honestly looks stunning and ready for production. I suspect this is very close to what the production i3 interior will look like and I hope BMW doesn't change much because it looks awesome as it currently is.

BMW North American manager of sales and strategy Jacob Harb was also at the event and he spoke for a while and then fielded questions from the ActiveE group. There really wasn't any new news offered. We talked a lot about the range extender option as well as DC quick charge. There was also a lot of discussion on the tires BMW seem to be using on the i3. They are tall and thin and don't look like they would be good for aggressive driving. The concept coupe at the show had 175/60 R20's on the rear wheels and 155/60 R20's on the front. No doubt the different tire sizes were a concept-only feature but the tall and thin nature of them had people wondering if too much road holding will be sacrificed in the name of efficiency. We also talked a lot about the use of run-flat tires. I can say with certainty the ActiveE drivers there, and many others that I have spoken to do not want run flat tires on the i3. I hope BMW got the message and decides not to use them. They are loud, harsh and heavy and we do not want them. Can I be any clearer?

The openness of the i3 is hard to capture in pictures. Although it is a small car, the interior is spacious. During the presentation Walter said the i3 will have roughly the same interior volume as a three series. That's considerably more space than our ActiveE's have now even though the i3 is much smaller. Because of the life-drive architecture and the elimination of the transmission tunnel needed on front engine internal combustion engine cars, the i3's passenger compartment is much more spacious than a comparable gas car of it's size would be.

So while I'm really happy to see BMW thinking about expanding the i3's line to offer different variations, what I'm really looking forward to is finally seeing what the production i3 will look like. We are tantalizingly close now after nearly four years of waiting. I'm figuring I'll get my wish in about three months in Geneva? Anyone else care to guess when and where BMW will show off the real i3?

Here's some more pictures from the LA Auto show:

19 comments:

  1. I don't completely understand the difference between the "i3 hatcback" and the "i3 coupe". Does the coupe version not have a hatch? Other than being 4 doors, what are the differences?

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  2. Hi Chris,

    Sorry if I wasn't clear. The basic difference is the coupe has two doors and the original i3 has four. They are both hatchbacks, and basically the same car. The concept coupe is actually a few inches longer than the four door concept is, which is surprising to me because if anything, I would expect the four door to be longer than the two door. However these are still just concepts so the dimensions can change on the production versions.

    Also, while the four door will go into production this fall, this coupe version is still just a concept and BMW hasn't announced if they will actually go ahead and offer it. Perhaps they will wait and see how well the four door sells first.

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  3. Hi Tom -
    For awhile I've guessed the pre-production i3 will be revealed at the New York Auto Show at the end of March, because that is about six months before it goes on sale. (That would also be a short trip for you. Hopefully they will let you drive it and write a review for the rest of us:)

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    1. It may very well because I believe the timing is right as you noted. However I still think the Geneva show makes more sense for BMW because it's in Europe and closer to home. Plus it's 6 months before the suspected launch and the NYIAS is only 5 months. It could happen at either (or neither) but I'm still thinking Geneva will be the time.

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    2. And don't think BMW is basing the launch on what would be convenient for me!

      I do hope to be one of the first to drive one though...

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    3. I did some research and discovered that Geneva seems to be one of the top tier "major" auto shows, while New York is a second tier major auto show. I'm therefore switching my vote to Geneva for the unveiling. All the better, because it's three weeks before New York.

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  4. I have absolutely no worries about the i3's narrow tires. Lighter cars do not need all that rubber because there is much less weight to muscle around a curve (than a typical, heavy ICE BMW). Also, the i3's very low center of gravity means there will be much less weight transfer to the outer wheels when going around a curve. With ICE cars, the inside wheels unweight and can contribute almost nothing to high-speed cornering grip, whereas all four of the i3's tires will be working hard. And as always, the most important variable in handling is driver skill.

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    1. Agreed. I think it's more of a visual thing. Thin, tall tires don't look very sporty.

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  5. Hi Tom,

    A couple of surprising statements in this video from BMW!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBORWBmzpHc

    The first sentence:
    "A new generation of mobility, the BMW i3 concept coupe, the first purely electric powered model from the BMW i brand."

    The final statement at the end of the video:
    "The new BMW i3 concept coupe will be launched in the end of 2013."

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    1. Hi Lindsay,

      Yes, I also noticed they said the coupe will launch in the end of 2013. I know that's when the i3 four door will launch so this was either an unintentional slip on BMW's part and they really are launching both the 4 door and the coupe or the people making the video just made a mistake and referred to the fact that the i3 was launching then. I personally think they just made a mistake, but let's see.

      The same with the first sentence, I think they were just referring to the fact that the i3 was launching and it will be the first BMW EV to go into production.

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  6. As you keep reminding us, Tom, nobody has actually seen (or driven) a production i3, including the folks at BMW (still time for them to make changes), so judgment from those of us in the peanut gallery is premature.

    Alas, I'm always dismayed by the many complaints about the i3 not being everyman's BEV. Those people who want long range along with the capability to make 100 mph freeway "safety maneuvers" have apparently forgotten that BMW has always characterized the i3 as a city car. It's BMW's first mass-produced BEV; they have to start somewhere.

    Those people who want the i3 to look "like a BMW" have forgotten that the i3 is not a BMW per se, but belongs to BMW's "i" sub-brand, which BMW designers have regularly reminded us follows a different, more futuristic design paradigm. No need for a long hood if there is no engine underneath, and no need for a big gaping radiator grille if there is no need to dissipate mega-BTUs of waste heat. A small symbolic double kidney will always be welcome on i cars, but not so large as to pay homage to ICE inefficiency.

    (Curiously, the 2013 Honda Accord sedan looks amazingly like a 3-Series, or is it the other way around?)

    BMW is now selling hybrid cars that "look like BMWs" for people who want ICE range, performance and looks. Over the next several years, as batteries become more energy dense, lighter, and cheaper, and as fuel efficiency regulations become more demanding, core hybrid BMWs will get smaller ICEs and bigger electric motors, and will become plug-ins. Shorter hoods, smaller grilles. (Think Active Tourer Concept -- oops, FWD, like a Mini Cooper)

    I do agree with you now, Tom, that it will be useful for BMW to offer a future i3 (& other i BEVs) with a couple of battery options, but this route will not be practicable until a battery with significantly higher energy density (and lower weight) becomes available/affordable. A long-range version (say, 200 miles) could use a high-kWh battery having the same weight as the initial i3 offering; it would have the same performance and efficiency. The standard version would use a much lighter battery having the same (or less) capacity. Because of the lower total vehicle weight, this future i3 would be more efficient (more miles per kWh), and would also have better performance and handling with the same motor (and would be cheaper, or at least would cost less to build). Three to five years?

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    1. Chris, I never said nobody at BMW has seen or driven a i3. They have pre-production models, ones that are probably virtually identical to the final production car and have been driving them for a while now. I'm not only talking about Munich, they have then here in the States too and I may even know where a couple are ;)

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    2. Yes, I've certainly seen photos and videos of the camouflaged pre-production cars, but I meant to be literal when I said "production" i3. I've also read that the production line will start slowly late-2013, and not get up to full speed until 2014, much as the Model S pace of production has taken some time to ramp up. I would think that if they have decided on the final design and engineering details, and have built production line specimens, why not just start production now? Ans: 1) They're still testing, which implies the possibility of changes. 2) They're still working out production techniques and processes, which again implies the possibility of design changes to facilitate production. 3) With respect to the Coupe Concept, I assume they wanted reaction to the design, which implies the possibility of change, especially since concept cars tend to be exaggerated caricatures. 4) They know that a better battery chemistry is in the offing late 2013 and they are waiting for that. 5) They are waiting until the ActiveE leases start to run out to provide continuity for the Electronauts, and a reliable demand for the early i3s.

      In any case, I still believe they have time to make at least minor changes if they decide to, so I will not guess what they are doing until they actually show us a car and say this is identical to the production i3, and not "probably" identical. (Still waiting for Geneva.)

      Also, if you know where there are un-camouflaged final-design i3s here, please go on a field trip with your telephoto lens:) (I won't tell anyone it was you.)

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    3. As I stated in the forum, the most important thing is that BMW is listening to 'all' of the folks involved in the Active E testing.

      A 'city car' designed for Berlin IS going to be different that one for Boston, NYC or LA (sorry, I was an Urban Planner before I retired). Though a European 'city car' would never be required to do Autobahn speeds, 70% of commuter traffic in LA is via expressways, where everyone moves above posted limits when they can.

      Let us not mistake 'complaints' for suggestions from fairly vocal and rabidly loyal BMW owners that want their favorite car company to be successful in all marketplaces.

      After all, there is no reason that the i series of cars cannot also be Ultimate Driving Machines in their own rite...

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  7. Believe me, there are 'finished' i3's out there Chris. Not what you have seen in picture or videos. They are only really doing minor engineering tweaks at this point. If I were to be exposed to one somehow, I wouldn't be able to post pictures of it I can assure you. ;)

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    1. I do believe you are right about production-representative i3s, Tom. Early this morning I remembered NHTSA crash tests (ouch!) which will be particularly important because of the battery and the carbon fiber construction. This combination is new to everyone, so I think the process will take more time and has likely been started. EPA efficiency tests will also have to be done, but these can take place closer to the time of sale.

      I saw you put my comments in the ActiveE forum -- thanks for that. Those comments were in response to things that appeared in that forum (perhaps obviously), but my personal feeling is that the forum is a place for ActiveE lessees.

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    2. The i3 is difficult for a lot of the traditional BMW customers to understand in my opinion. Many of these people are accustomed to paying $50,000 to $70,000 for a car so they are saying "Just put a bigger battery in the damn thing so it has a longer range, I'll pay for it!" Kind of like muscle car days where everybody wanted more cubic inches. However in my opinion BMW is looking at it from a different perspective, knowing the i3 isn't going to suit everybody's needs. As you pointed out they have been saying all along it's a city car, it's not for people that want to drive from the Bay area to LA on a regular basis. Even with the REx option it's not meant for that. It's just the first car out of BMW i, longer range EV's that are larger cars will follow for sure.

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  8. I don't understand this sentence:

    "There really wasn't any new news offered. We talked a lot about the range extender option as well as DC quick charge. "

    Seems to me that if you'd typed out a summary of that conversation there *would* be useful news!!!

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  9. Hi Jeremy,

    People there asked a lot of questions about the range extender and the DC quick charge, but as I said Jacob and Walter deflected the questions as best they could as to not reveal any new information on them. The only thing we got was "yes there will be a range extender option available" not details at all on what kind of motor, how many kW's will it generate, will the car still be highway capable when the generator is on, etc, so basically no new information to report.

    The same think with a DC quick charge option. People asked if it would be standard equipment or optional, what would the charging rate be, would it be CHAdeMO or SAE combo, where will the port be, etc, and the only thing we got was "DC quick charge will be available on the i3".

    Sorry, but there REALLY was no useful news to report!

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