Thursday, April 18, 2013

BMW i3 Exclusive New Color: Solar Orange Metallic

Autoevolution scored some spy photos of a BMW i3 with a new color exposed. It's evidently a new color for BMW that will be exclusive to the i3 and it's called Solar Orange Metallic. BMW describes the new color as: "a warm shade bursting with energy that was created especially for the BMW i3." Autoevolution also said "For contrast, the bonnet and part of the boot lid will be gloss black" which would indicate the hood of the i3 will not be the painted the color of the rest of the car, but instead will be gloss black.

This was true for both of the concept i3's that BMW has shown but I think most people just assumed they had the two tone color scheme for dramatic car show effect. It's interesting to me because the hood & roof are CFRP, while the majority of the body is plastic panels that are bolted onto the CFRP frame. So if Autoevolution is right it would appear all the exposed CFRP will be simply gloss black regardless of the color of the rest of the car. And the tidbits of info keep coming...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

BMW Slowly Undressing the i3

The most recent spy shots of the BMW i3 show more of the car than ever before, continuing the trend BMW has set of slowly exposing more and more of the car as we approach its official unveiling at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

A production-looking nose is spotted
When the very first spy shots were captured two years ago, the car looked very boxy and was completely covered in the blue and white swirly camouflage. It was also clear that BMW had even added fake panels under the "camo" to further obfuscate the real look. As time progressed the fake body panels were slowly dropped and now we are seeing what looks to be pre-production i3's during testing with parts of the body exposed as some of the camouflage has been removed. There was even one picture of what looks like the nose of a full production version i3 which was taken during a photo shoot in California recently.

BMW is still holding back on releasing much information on the car but we have learned a few things recently:

1) BMW will offer gas loaners for customers who need to drive further than their i3 will conveniently take them. The full details haven't been released like how many times per year you are offered the loaner or if there is any fee, time or mileage restriction. Can you take the loaner for a two week vacation on a 1,000 mile trip? Answers to these important questions are still unknown.

2) The optional range extender will not operate like Chevy Volt, allowing the driver to continue driving for hundreds of miles after the battery is exhausted without any noticeable difference. The details are still very unclear, but BMW had said the i3 will have reduced performance when in range extender mode. While BMW is quick to say the car will not be in any kind of "limp home" mode while utilizing the REx, it is not meant to extend your range on a daily basis. In fact Herbert Diess BMW’s global R&D chief was quoted saying “The range extender is not intended for daily use. It’s for situations when the driver needs to extend the range of the vehicle to reach the next charging station,” said Diess. “Therefore, the i3 probably won’t be the choice for customers with a need for an extended range.”

3) The i3 will first go on sale in Europe (November 16th has been rumored to be the launch date) and come to the US in late December. The first batch of i3's that do make it to the US will have the range extender option, as BMW expects the majority of the initial sales to have the option included. Although some i3's will arrive in late December, the speculation is that the official US launch will occur in early January when the car becomes widely available

Monday, April 1, 2013

World's First BMW's i3 Test Drive: I Get The Honor!

It may not be the color I'd choose, but I can say I'm the first person outside of BMW to drive an i3!

It had to be somebody. There can only be one person who gets to be the first person to do something. BMW's first production electric vehicle, the highly anticipated 2014 i3 has had a couple of journalist "ride alongs" where they were passengers in test mule cars, but nobody outside of BMW had been given the keys to a pre-production i3 and been allowed to drive it. Until yesterday.

BMW's North American Headquarters
I spent most of last week at the NY Auto Show and a good deal of the time there at the BMW display. I had the opportunity to speak with many of the top BMW executives as well as many of the BMW i program managers. It's no secret that BMW's US headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ has had half a dozen pre-production i3's for a few months now. In fact, BMW recently announced they have made a few hundred pre-production i3's rfor final validation. While at the show, I had been asking every person I spoke to one question: "So when do I get to drive an i3?" I think I must have asked that 20 times. My persistence paid off big time. On Thursday Jacob Harb the Head of Electric Vehicle Operations and Strategy for BMW of North America came up and and asked me, "What are you doing Sunday?" "Sunday? Sunday's Easter so I'll be at my parents' house with the rest of my family, what do you have in mind?" I replied. He then went on to tell me if I wanted to drive a pre-production i3, I could. The only thing is I had to do it 8:00am Sunday morning. The entire BMW campus in Woodcliff Lake would be closed and no employees would be there so they could control the whole event. I would have one half hour to drive the car all over the campus (which is very large with huge empty parking lots) and could drive the car as spirited as I wanted to. Needless to say, I accepted!

My security badge
My parents live in Fairfield, NJ which is only about 25 minutes from the Woodcliff Lake Campus so this was easy to arrange and really didn't impact any family plans because it was so early. The rules were I would be allowed to take one picture of me with the car and it couldn't show any of the interior which was completely production-ready. I was given a one day security badge to allow my access to the campus and there would be one employee there to ride along with me. I had to sign some documents that would restrict me from revealing very specific functions and details, but other than that I was free to write or say whatever I wanted to. The Woodcliff Lake Campus is really perfect for this as it's in a rural area surrounded by trees and security booths at all the entrances. Nobody could see what we were doing or take pictures of us.

I arrived at the campus at 7:45am and followed the directions to the technical center where the car was to be. When I arrived there was a familiar face waiting for me. It was Dave Mustac, the technical coordinator for the ActiveE and Electric Vehicle Aftersales Specialist. I kind of felt bad that he had to come here for this on Easter Sunday, but he said he lived close and really didn't mind. I hope that was the case. The car was inside so we had to go in and get it. When we got to the room where it was, I was stunned to see six i3's all gathered together in there. Three of them had the blue swirly camouflage that we've been seeing and three others were painted bright yellow. Not exactly the color I would choose, but for this I didn't care what color it was. I assumed I would be regulated to one of the camouflaged ones, but the first car in line was a yellow one and Dave walked over to it as I followed.  The bright yellow color kind of reminded me of a crash test car, but these obviously aren't being used for that.

It was a BEV i3 although there were three with the range extender option also. He handed me the keys and smiled saying, "I know you've waited for this for a while now," and he was right. I pulled out and the first thing I did was drive on the main road that circles the campus. There were long straight-aways and I could really see how much punch it had. It didn't disappoint! It's definitely much faster than the ActiveE, obviously the result of it having the same power while being nearly 1,300lbs lighter. After circling the campus I pulled off into one of the large parking lots which was completely empty and I did some autocross-like maneuvers. It has remarkable poise even with the thin tires on 20" non-production wheels. They held tight on even the tightest turns and barely even squealed as I pushed the car to the limit. 

After about 40 minutes Dave reminded me we did have to wrap things up. I noticed I used 30% of the charge but didn't look at the mileage when I started (I was too excited) so that's not much help with the expected range. The instruments - which I can't really talk about were very impressive and I think will be well received. Please ask questions below and I'll answer whatever I can but remember there are a lot of things I can't comment about. Special thanks to Dave for taking time out of his Easter Sunday to come and make sure I didn't leave the campus with it! I can't wait till I get the next opportunity to take one for a longer (and maybe unsupervised) drive!

UPDATE: For those that haven't figured it yet, this was an April Fools joke. Unfortunately I haven't had the privilege to test drive an i3...yet. Hopefully I'll get to be one of the first that does, but we'll have to wait to see... Special thanks to follower Chris Llana who did the photoshop work for the picture above. I know he spent a while on it and it definitely tricked a good amount of people. I even got emails from some people asking if I could tell them info on the car!