Monday, February 25, 2013

BMW Allows The First Journalists Ever To Take A Ride In An i3

An i3 test car going through cold weather testing in Sweden.     Photo: Autocar
For the first time ever BMW has allowed a few journalists take a ride in i3's. One of the test rides took place in Sweden where a small fleet of i3's is finishing up their final cold weather testing. BMW has actually been conducting cold weather testing of the i3's there for over two years now, as the conditions there are perfect for this kind of validation. The other drive happened in Ismaning, Germany at another of BMW's test facilities.

Kacher poses as BMW's Kranz looks on. Photo: Car Magazine
In the past two days Autocar and Car Magazine have published articles on their impression of the experience. It appears nobody was allowed to actually drive the i3, they were passengers. Autocar writer Greg Kable had Patrick Mueller, head of BMW i drivetrain development as his pilot and Georg Kacher of Car Magazine had the privilege of being chauffeured by non other than Uli Kranz, the project leader of BMW i. You can click on the above links to read the full reports and I'll summarize the revelations that I believe are most important here:

1) The i3 is faster than what we thought. Until now BMW had said two things about the speed of the i3. In one instance they said the concept i3 will go 0-100km (62mph) in 7.9 seconds. Then in most recent marketing venues we were told the "Concept i3 goes 0-60mph in under 8 seconds". It's important to note they always referenced the "Concept i3" not the production car. Now for the first time journalists have quoted 0-60 times. Kable from Autocar said the i3 will do 0-60 in 7.2 seconds and Kacher said it will do it in 7.3. The i3 is clearly going to be a quick car. My MINI-E did 0-60 in about 8 seconds and it was a blast to drive. The ActiveE is no slouch either, but it takes a little over 9 seconds to hit 60mph. Cutting two seconds off the ActiveE time will certainly make for a spirited drive. 

2) The i3 achieved an official 140 miles of range on the European test procedure. What does this mean? Well the 2011/2012 LEAF achieved a range of 107 miles on this same test and that translated into a 73 mile EPA rating. Translated to the i3 that would then give it an EPA rating of 95 miles per charge. I know you can't make that exact assumption, but if you simply roll the numbers and say the i3 achieved a range of 130%(140/107) that's what it converts to and it's all we have to go on at this time. I would be happy if that is the EPA range rating for the i3. I have contended all along that I would prefer a 100 mile EPA rating, but as long as it is over 90 miles per charge, then I believe it will do just fine. It will then have the highest EPA rating of any EV that doesn't have a Tesla powertrain.

The 20" wheels on the concept coupe
3) It will come standard with 19" wheels and 20" wheels will be optional. The concept cars had 20" wheels, but concept cars frequently have oversized wheels that don't make it to production. These wheels are huge for a car of this size. There isn't any production car anywhere that is this small and has 20" wheels! You usually only see 20" wheels on huge SUV's and trucks. The whole concept of these tall wheels and thin tires is to maximize efficiency by reducing rolling resistance and drag, while still providing great road holding for high performance driving. When questioned about how the thin tires can manage to give the car such great handling Kranz said: "It’s not rocket science. All that matters is the size of the contact patch. The 19-inch tires may be skinny, but their tall height generates the same contact patch as a low-section 16-inch MINI tire". Kacher was very impressed with the handling and he said: "The i3’s most awesome dynamic talent is its incredible grip. The made-to-measure tires are about as narrow as those of a 125cc motorbike, yet they hang on almost as tenaciously as BMW’s latest DTM racer."

This is the engine to be used for the REx
4) The range extender will be a 650cc two-cylinder gas engine borrowed from the BMW C650GT motorcycle. When used for the motorcycle it has a maximum of 60hp but on the i3 it will be highly optimized for efficiency, and will run at lower RPM's for a quiet, low vibration operation. This lowers the power output to 35bhp. It will be mounted close to the rear wheels and accompanied by a 2.3 gallon gas tank which will be positioned behind the front axle. This makes sense since the gas filler door is on the front passenger quarter panel. I imagine 35 hp will be enough to allow the i3 to continue at highway speeds of 65-70mph on flat surfaces, but I don't believe it will be enough to allow the car to climb steep grades at highway speeds. It's worth noting that BMW has hinted that the range extender is not meant for full time driving like a Chevy Volt. It's main purpose to to allow you to get you to your destination or the nearest charge point once you have exhausted the battery and allow you to do so without worry of being stranded, it's not designed for prolonged high speed driving. If you frequently need to drive more than 100 to 120 miles or so, perhaps the i3 with a range extender isn't the best plug-in choice for you, but let's wait for the official specifications before we conclude that for sure.

5) Kacher wrote: "BMW has tooled up initially to produce 30,000 cars a year, but this can be extended to 50,000 units if the i3 takes off". I had heard rumors of production estimates being 30,000/year initially but they were never really confirmed. If Kacher got this directly from Kranz then it's really the first time an official production goal was offered by BMW. It's a lofty goal. No other EV has even come close to selling that many in any year, let alone it's first year. One advantage the i3 does have though is it will be available in markets all over the world, unlike many of the other plug in cars that are available today. However the LEAF is available in many countries also and it hasn't hit the 30,000/year mark after more than two years and it's a much more affordable car then the i3 will be. It's difficult to gauge the plug in vehicle market. Government incentives play a big role and so does the proliferation of public charging infrastructure. However the i3 is the only EV in it's price class that will offer the performance and range that it does, as well as an optional range extender and the premium driving experience that is expected of a BMW so it will be interesting to watch how the sales figures progress.

Since I wasn't lucky enough to be one of the first outside BMW to hitch a ride in an i3 I'll just reprint Kacher's conclusion. He makes his thoughts on the car very clear:

"The i3 is shaping up to be a breakthrough electric car. It delivers dynamic thrills like no electric car before it. The steering seems highly involving, the drivetrain’s punch would flatten a Leaf, and the handling and road-holding seem up there with BMW’s best. Ulrich Kranz and his team appear to have succeeded in bringing pure driving pleasure to the environmentally friendly car. We’ll know for sure when we drive the car in summer 2013"

Friday, February 8, 2013

BMW i3 Concept Coupe Video

A new video of the BMW i3 Concept Coupe surfaced on YouTube today. Here it is for your viewing pleasure...